Mido’s first taste of management comes straight out of fantasy football.
For the former Tottenham and West Ham striker has just taken over Africa’s most successful club, Zamalek, who have won the Egyptian title 11 times, the African Champions League on five occasions and attract crowds of 100,000.
Mido’s appointment follows a 14-year career which saw him play for 11 clubs, averaging 14 months at each, his first being Zamalek and his last being Championship-side Barnsley, where he turned out just once in six months.
“Going to Barnsley wasn’t the right decision,” admits Mido. “I went because it was close to my house. I had offers from Brighton but to live there on my own would have been very different.
“I was living in the north having played for Middlesbrough and I wanted to be only an hour’s drive from home. What I learned is you should always choose [your club] only for football reasons. I found it very difficult to play in the lower leagues. It’s a different way of training. The mentality is different.”
Mido sees no problems in becoming a manager so young — he will be 31 next month. “All the clubs now have young managers. Zamalek believe I’m the right man for the job. I turned down two offers from other Egyptian clubs but, when one of the biggest clubs in Africa came to me, I didn’t think twice. This is my home club, the place where I grew up, where I wanted to start as manager.”
Such is his belief he can manage that he turned down the job of director of Egyptian football. “I see myself in a coaching role rather than a management role sitting in the office. I have the character to become a manager and everyone who worked and played with me knows that.”
Atmosphere: Mido enjoyed playing at White Hart LaneMido scored 20 goals in 51 games for Egypt and famously clashed with his coach, Hassan Shehata, after being substituted during their African Cup of Nations semi-final win over Senegal in 2006. It earned him a six-month suspension by the national federation.
Throughout our interview he could not be more polite, calling me sir, but he is clearly not a modest man. For, when I suggest that good players rarely make good coaches, he says: “But I am different to other good players. I always asked questions of the managers that I’ve worked with. Each coach that I’ve worked with, I’ve learned from. I take what is right for myself. I’ve learned from different training schools, having played in seven different countries.”
Just a few days into his new job he has already shown how resourceful he can be. An evening training session was halted by a power cut but Mido ordered the players to turn their car headlights on to the pitch so they could continue their run-out. Mido has played in England, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Egypt and Holland and it is his two spells with Ajax that will provide the template for his managerial career.
“The philosophy of Ajax is amazing,” he says. “It’s about keeping the ball, doing the basic movements. They have a system everyone [at the club] is forced to play.”
Mido’s love for the club began during his first spell there in 2001 when he was part of a talented group, which included Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The pair had an argument, with Mido said to have thrown a pair of scissors at the Sweden striker. But that row is long behind him and he says: “I spoke to Ibrahimovic last week. He is great, not moody at all, the nicest person you will ever meet in your life.”
His affection for Tottenham, where he came from Roma in 2004, is almost as great as for Ajax. “Tottenham are a great club. When I was growing up in Egypt, I knew about Tottenham. They played against Zamalek in the Fifties. From day one, the crowd was great. I always loved to play there and White Hart Lane is the best stadium in England.”
However, it was a goal at Emirates Stadium that he considers his best. “It was in the Carling Cup semi-final [in 2007 which Spurs lost 5-3 on aggregate] that I scored the goal that gives me most pleasure. I think I’m the first Spurs player to score at the Emirates.”
Mistake: Mido, who was signed on a permanent deal by Martin Jol in 2006, was sad to see the Dutchman sacked at SpursBut, while he still enjoys returning to the Lane, he is convinced that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was wrong to get rid of Martin Jol, the manager who brought him to north London.
“Martin had a great way of dealing with the players, talking to each individually and playing every game in a formation that suited them. I was very sad to see him go because Martin finished fifth twice, spending very little money. Now they spend a lot of money and the result is not the same.”
Mido had a chance to explore this issue when, while commentating for Al Jazeera last week in Doha, he met Andre Villas-Boas, who was sacked by Spurs in December.
“I told him the biggest problem Tottenham have is buying seven players from all over the world and playing them all together. Then you lose the balance of the team. This is the biggest mistake AVB made.
“I told him that, even after selling Gareth Bale, they shouldn’t have bought more than three good players: a centre-half, which they needed, a striker and a good midfielder like Paulinho or Christian Eriksen. They bought both but to have seven and play them all together was a disaster. The culture of football in England is different. When I came to Tottenham, I struggled because the pace of the game is much higher and it’s much more physical.”
One question that intrigued Mido was who brought in these players? Was it AVB or director of football Franco Baldini, for whom Mido has a high regard dating back to their Roma days?
“AVB didn’t give a clear answer because legally he cannot answer questions like that. What I understood is that AVB had a lot of say in the players. It is obvious that Erik Lamela is a player that Baldini went after because he was working with him at Roma. But I knew from inside the club that AVB said, ‘I really want him as well.’ I don’t think there is a player who joined Tottenham without AVB’s permission.”