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Monday, July 4, 2011

Egyptian goalkeeper lashes out at fans and blames Egypt’s revolution for poor performance

Ittihad al-Skandarya's goalkeeper Al-Hani Soliman. (File photo)

Ittihad al-Skandarya's goalkeeper Al-Hani Soliman. (File photo)
The goalkeeper of the port city of Alexandria’s soccer club, Ittihad al-Skandarya, in the latest salvo in an escalating war of words between players and fans, has charged that the toppling this year of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was the reason his club was likely to be relegated to the second division.

Goalkeeper Al-Hani Soliman made his remark to Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com after Ittihad drew 1:1 this weekend against crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC. Ittihad needs to win seven points in this season’s two remaining Premier League matches to avoid being downgraded. The club had been lingering at the bottom of the Premier League already before anti-government protests forced Mr. Mubarak to step down on February 11.

“I think that Ittihad suffered great damage after the revolution. We had a lot of changes in the board and in the managing staff which took its toll on the team,” Mr. Soliman said after the match against Zamalek.

His remark constituted a broadside against militant Ittihad fans who earlier this year forced the club’s chairman, Mohamed Moselhi, and members of his board to resign.

The fans targeted Mr. Moselhi because he was a member of Mr. Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). They blamed him for the club’s poor performance and troubled finances. The club has since seen a number of board changes in quick succession.

Militant soccer fans, who played a key role in the protests that toppled Mr. Mubarak, have criticized players and soccer managers for standing on the side lines of the revolt that ended the former president’s 30 years of autocratic rule. The fans have demanded since the president’s downfall the resignations of Mubarak-era officials and the eradication of corruption in Egyptian soccer.

Relations between players and fans have soured further because of a series of violent incidents during recent domestic and international matches in which fans stormed the pitch and attacked referees and players in protest against controversial decisions by referees. The fans and some clubs accuse the referees of corruption and match-fixing.

Fans and clubs are also gunning for the resignation of Egyptian Football Association (EFA) president Samir Zaher and members of his board.

Mr. Soliman’s remark follows the launch last month of a campaign on YouTube by top Egyptian players to persuade fans to display greater tolerance. Joining the call among others were Egyptian national team captain Ahmed Hassan, Borussia Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan, Al Ahly defender Wael Gomaa and playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika.

Militant fans fundamentally distrust players whom they view as guns for hire with no commitment to the clubs for which they play. That distrust has been reinforced by the players’ absence during the anti-Mubarak protests.

“We need to become united following 25 January,” Mr. Soliman’s fellow team member, international midfielder Hosni Abd-Rabou said in the 51-second video, referring to the first day of 18 days of mass protest that forced Mr. Mubarak to resign.

To be sure, Egyptian soccer has been affected by a three-month suspension of domestic leagues earlier this year to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point in the walk-up and aftermath of the ousting of Mr. Mubarak.

Egypt’s trophy-winning national team failed last month to qualify for the African Cup of Nations finals for the first time in 29 years. The failure prompted the resignation of controversial national coach Hassan Shehata, who had openly supported Mr. Mubarak during the protests.

Mr. Soliman’s remark is likely to further muddy the waters between players and fans some of whom were killed or injured during clashes with police and Mubarak loyalists in the weeks leading to the president’s departure.

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