Seven years In exile in the Dutch, English and Saudi Arabian leagues, Hossam Ghaly went full circle when he returned to Al-Ahly, the club where he learned his trade. After being elevated to the captaincy, he is now ready to lead the Cairo side out at their fourth FIFA Club World Cup.

An Al-Ahly youth product, Ghaly reached the first-team at the age of 17. Seven years later he was on his way to Feyenoord, where he spent three seasons before signing on the dotted line with Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League. After a loan spell with Derby County ended in relegation, he returned to White Hart Lane, but only briefly, with the midfielder then making the move to Saudi Arabian outfit Al Nasr, where he stayed for one season before going back to where it all began.

Appointed skipper on his return to the Red Devils, he has led them to victory in two Egyptian Super Cups and the 2010/11 league championship, achievements that were followed by the club’s record seventh CAF Champions League triumph in 2012, a rare bright spot in an otherwise difficult few months.

Speaking to ahead of Al-Ahly’s Japan 2012 quarter-final against Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Sunday, Ghaly spoke about their journey back to the FIFA Club World Cup and their goals in the days ahead. It’s been a traumatic year for Al-Ahly, hasn’t it?
Hossam Ghaly:
Yes, this year has been very hard for the club and for Egyptian football as a whole, because of the political situation. The Port Said disaster has been very difficult for us to come to terms with. Seventy-two of the club’s supporters lost their lives and we’ve all been badly scarred by that.

I’d love to face Chelsea, especially as it would mean we’d be in the final.

Ghaly on the Club World Cup

You met the families of the victims. Can you describe what that was like?
We met all the families. After the disaster a group of players visited them on behalf of the team, and on Mother’s Day we organised a reception for the mothers of the victims. We tried to lift their spirits a little, but we could sense the terrible pain they were feeling. These women are our sisters. We experienced that event in the flesh and we saw several supporters die in the dressing room. To go to a football match and lose your life doesn’t bear thinking about. I went through a real nightmare.

Let’s talk about the final against Esperance. Did you think you could turn the tie around in Tunisia after drawing 1-1 at home in the first leg?
We were full of confidence. It wasn’t the greatest of scorelines but we played well in that first leg. The return game was not easy and we had to impose our style of play against a team who were the defending champions. We tried to dictate the game right from the kick-off and stay strong the whole time. Every player performed their roles to perfection and we thoroughly deserved the win, especially when you consider the ordeal we’ve been through.

On a personal level you had a very impressive Champions League. What was the secret of your success?
Yes, that game was my best performance in the competition. It was all down to the players around me. I’m very proud of them and there are no better players in Egypt right now. We all share the same vision of the game, and that helps us gel together on the pitch, which definitely helped me step up my performances. My team-mates are all excellent footballers and they’re very experienced. They play an attacking game and they like to keep the ball on the ground, which is just the way I like it.

Al-Ahly have played in three FIFA Club World Cups to date, though this is your first time. What are you expecting from the competition and which teams are you hoping to meet?
I’d been waiting to take part in this competition since going back to Al-Ahly two years ago, but things didn’t go my way. My team-mates have all played in the tournament before and they’ve told me a lot about the atmosphere in Japan and the quality of the organisation. You just feel like playing good football there and I can’t wait to see it for myself. I’d love to face Chelsea, especially as it would mean we’d be in the final. I played against them four times in England: three times with Spurs and once with Derby County. I hope the fifth time will be in Japan, in the colours of Al-Ahly.

Al-Ahly took third place in 2006. What are your objectives this time?
We’ve completely freed our minds this time. We won the Champions League in spite of everything and we want to make the most of being in Japan and the atmosphere surrounding the competition. We’ll be going out to win every game and I hope we can do Africa and Egypt proud.