MMohamed Salah is by far the best Egyptian to ever play in Europe. At Lverpoool, he is a winner, a conqueror, a record breaker. But before him, there was Ahmed Hossam, aka Mido, the boy whose fame and influence in Egypt, was likened to that of Diego Maradona in Argentina.
Was he overrated? Perhaps not. And to understand how good Mido was – the Salah comparisons aside – enter Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mido’s striking partner, and friend at Ajax.
Mido’s career sprouted at a very young age that Belgian side Gent signed him from Zamalek at just 17. The teenager became an instant hit on and off the pitch, scoring 11 goals in 23 matches, and winning the 2001 Ebony Shoe, the award given to the best player of African origin in the Belgian league.
The Ajax scouts were impressed and the next summer he was in Amsterdam, after an $11m deal that made him the most expensive Egyptian footballer then.
At the end of their debut season at Ajax, Mido and Ibrahimovic were winners of a league and cup double. But it was Mido, two years younger than Ibrahimovic, who had made a tangible contribution.
While the Swede scored just one goal before the winter, Mido rose to the occasion, netting 10 goals in the season’s final nine games. Coach Ronald Koeman’s choice was simple – benching Ibrahimovic. Mido also scored in the cup final against Utrecht. Actually each played 24 league games, Ibrahimovic scoring six, and Mido 12.
This instantly won him the moniker ‘King of Cairo’ in the Netherlands. Yet the opening chapters of his superstar story had been written in Belgium, where he ended his fling with Miss Belgium 2000 and dumped her two weeks to his wedding with an Egyptian girl-next-door.
The wedding attracted as much interest as Mido’s on-pitch appearances and became the most successful reality show in Egyptian TV history, according to The Guardian.
“In Egypt, he is treated like a god,” said Koeman, after Ajax played a friendly in Cairo.
“Everyone is impressed with him…everyone who has seen him play thinks he is a great talent,” Ajax technical director, Leo Beenhakker added.
Alongside Dutch winger Andy van der Meyde, Mido and Ibrahimovic formed a terrific trio on and off the pitch.
Mido bought a Ferrari just hours after signing for Ajax, and soon he added a BMW. On outings, Ibrahimovic rode a Mercedes Benz. They loved life.
Not that they did not clash. Once in the dressing room after a game Mido threw a pair of scissors at Ibrahimovic, a crime that relegated him to the reserves. But “10 minutes later, we left with our arms around each other,” Ibrahimovic wrote in his autobiography, I’m Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The divergent trajectories
Mido was born in a middle class family in Cairo; his father, also former footballer, funded his way through private sports college. Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic, a son of Balkan immigrants, was bred in the ghettos of Malmo, Sweden, where a gigantic statute of him now welcomes you to the place.
Both almost equally gifted, and with similar tastes and preferences, they are hotheads, who ended up in parallel career paths.
In March 2003, Koeman had had enough and forced Mido on loan to Celta Vigo, way before Ibrahimovic joined Italian giants Juventus.
Mido scored four in eight La Liga at Celta and joined the following season Marseille. His brief duo with Didier Drogba yielded just seven goals in 22 Ligue 1 appearances. Drogba headed to Chelsea, Mido to Roma, where after eight Serie A games without a goal, he was loaned to Tottenham.
In London, under another Dutch manager Martin Jol, whose Waalwijk side faced Mido in the Dutch league, Mido almost rediscovered his importance. But after two and a half seasons, he joined Middlesborough, wandered in lower English leagues, two loan spells in Egypt, injuries and retired at just 30.
He played for 10 clubs in seven different countries but with less impact than he promised. After leaving Spurs, he never managed more than four goals in a season.
Mido and Ibrahimovic were both nomadic. They both played in all the major leagues in Europe, except the Bundesliga. But their impact and harvest differ like day and night.
Since leaving Ajax, Ibrahimovic has scored nearly 330 goals, winning over 16 major trophies, except the Champions League. He is not alone, though: Ronaldo da Lima, Hernan Crespo, Patrick Vieira, et al belong to this lonely club due to lack of luck.
Conversely, Mido managed just 49 goals in 10 years and never played in Europe’s elite competition since 2003.
When Ibrahimovic joined Manchester United in 2016, Mido was already retired. By the time Ibrahimovic left Old Trafford for LA Galaxy in the US, he was 36 but his 29 goals for the Red Devils equal Mido’s tally at Tottenham, Middlesbrough and Wigan a decade ago.
And the Swede himself troubled by injuries needed 53 matches, the Egyptian 107.
The Egyptians could have been more disappointed in Mido. At just 17 Mido was already playing for the Pharaohs and in 23 international appearances he boasted 10 goals. But he needed 28 games to score another 10. The most important of those being the opening goal for the 2006 African Nations Cup in Egypt’s 3-0 win over Libya in Cairo.
Mido had not scored again; but thanks to among others, Mohamed Aboutreika, captain Ahmed Hassan, and the legendary Essam El Hadary, who was the tournament’s best goalkeeper, Egypt hoisted their first Afcon trophy since 1998 and Mido’s first since his Ajax days.
But Mido’s controversy scoured the gloss on the coveted accolade.
In the 2-1 semifinal win over Senegal, the striker, frustrated by a dry spell, despite contributing to Hassan’s opener, physically confronted Coach Hassan Shehata, who substituted him in the 80th minute.
As if to exonerate the coach and execute Mido, his replacement Amr Zaki scored immediately what became the game’s winner.
For failure to control his emotion, Mido watched the final against Ivory Coast in the stands, and served a six-month ban from the national team.
This was too uncouth of a player who had made Egyptians attach as much importance to football as to education. Yet it was just a continuation of a steep plunge into mediocrity.
At Ajax, Ronald Koeman, a loyal student of Cruyff’s total football, wanted Mido to be a particular kind of striker. That is why, in the formative process, he had to learn how, and once Koeman substituted Mido after just 32 minutes of a league game.
This, according to The Guardian, “prompted cries of outrage from Mido, threats to quit and reminders of all the big teams in England and Italy that were purportedly aching to recruit him.”
This was a wrong move, and in March 2003, he was loaned to Celta Vigo is Spain….
Even if you erase Ibrahimovic’s Ajax achievements, his story remains one of a giant as much in size, persona, and career achievement. A club and country legend.
Mido’s last career game was a substitute appearance in Barnsley’s 1-0 defeat by Huddersfield in November 2012. He retired in 2013, at 30. Ibrahimovic, making 39 in October, still has AC Milan leadership begging for more.
Off the pitch, Mido became lazy and gained excessive weight. Doctors warned him that if does not change his ways, he would die before he makes 40. Seeking redemption as a coach, he won the 2014 Egypt Cup for Zamalek. He was last seen in the dugout at El Makkasa in the Egyptian Premier League in 2020.
Zamalek. African Cup Winners’ Cup - 2000
Ajax. Eredivisie - 2001-02, 2010-11
KNVB Cup. 2001-02
Johan Cruyff Shield. 2002
Africa Cup of Nations: 2006
Belgian Ebony Shoe: 2001
Belgian League Young Player of the Year 2000–01
Egyptian Young Footballer of the Year: 2001
African Young Player of the Year: 2002