Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why Mido is good for Egypt

Mido is a polarizing fellow. He's infuriated coaches, fans, fellow players and managed to play for five top flight clubs in five countries, all before the age of 22. Egyptian fans hold a special disdain for Mido due to his actions in the African Nations Cup semi-final, when he tore into coach Hassan Shehata in response to being substituted. He's arrogant, disrespectful and wholly uninterested in the feelings of those around him.

Which are all characteristics that make him a superb striker. Given enough players like him, Egypt should have no problems qualifying for the World Cup on a regular basis.

Every country has a nationl identity. And with it, comes strengths and weaknesses. No where are these strengths or weaknesses more clearly hilighted than in the field of sports and you hear about this all the time from foreign national coaches. Zico famously tore into his Japanese national team players because they couldn't seem to shed their procilvity for politeness, on the pitch. English team players are hailed for their "honesty" and their sense of fair play...but the reverse side of that is that, to a man, they all lack any sort of guile or inventiveness, which you need at the top level.

And it's the same with Egyptians. While the Egyptian character is famous for it's simplicity and it's humour, it also has a savage fear of failure and a societal fear of individuality. This lack of confidence can be traced back to the shadows of the pyramids which our forefathers built (both a source of pride and an obstacle to further achievement) as well as our long colonial history and present autocratic regime which, in it's bid to maintain control, suppresses all freedom of speech and expression. It's a cancer that has never been addressed and without an almost staggeringly obnoxious level of self-belief, we'll never overcome an almost staggeringly obnoxious level of suppression.

That's what Mido brings to the table, and that's why he's reviled by the Egyptian media and instinctively disliked by Egyptian fans. It takes an individual to leave one of the biggest clubs in Egypt (Zamalek), travel to Belgium and play his way to the top, all before the age of 19. It takes someone without a shred of self-doubt to criticize Sol Campbell before a game against him (he called him "one of the easiest defenders I've ever played against") and to take on a National team coach in front of millions. And from episodes like that, we need not to recoil, as our instincts tell us to and I'll tell you why.

Most coaches will tell you they don't want a player to be happy about being substituted. It's a sign that they want to be out there, they want to be on the front line and they want to chase the glory. Hassan Shehata ought not to have taken the bait, but if you watch the video again, he prolongs the exchange and defaults to that classic Egyptian gesture of opening his arms and raising his shoulders ("2a3meilak eih ya3ni?"). He reacted to his player because he isn't (and will never be) secure in his position. For that, I have no sympathy for him.

Secondly, all the great players/ artists/ performers have clashed with authority. It's what defines their greatness, their willingness to take on the institution, tear it down and replace it with their own vision. Now, Mido is far from a great player, but his spirit is that of a great player, someone who plays above his abilities and limitations, and if you don't know how to tap into that as a manager, you don't deserve to coach the game.

Lastly, results are what should always define us, not words. Even when we don't like the words, we can't let our sense of outrage to interfere with our desire to win. Mido may have been (is, in fact) guilty of hubris, but that's the reverse side of being a tremendous competitor. If we box all the players we have into shapes that we determine for them, we won't get the full benefit of their ability and that can only hurt us.

And the last one is just as true for children and co-workers as it is for atheletes and professional sportsmen. And if we, as a nation, are ever going to shed our history of underachievement, we need to embrace values we're not too familiar with: fearlessness, confidence, desire and toughness. And when we see someone like Mido showing us these values, we ought not reject them, just because we don't like him. It's called not letting your personal feelings get in the way of the greater good. Another thing Egyptians suck at.


Blogger Jester said...

Interesting sociological analysis, but one that grossly undermines the simple and age old premise of results equal love.

Allow me to elaborate, Mido has consistently underperformed for the national team and his tally for Egypt is too low to inspire any adoration from the fans. Granted, his obvious talent and ability to shine in Europe makes him the object of much envy and innuendo but his frequent gratuitous criticism of local Egyptian footballers doesn’t much help his strained relationship with the fans. I also think he’s much more media savvy than you give him credit for, he actively seeks to cement his image as the tough kid who doesn’t give a hoot.

I agree that you need an excess amount of confidence to take you to the top, and confidence he's got a lot of, but without results you don't get the love baby. To put it into perspective Flavio the Ahly striker is currently the darling of the fans after calls during the past two seasons to round the cost of his ticket and send him home. Truth be told the guy was disastrous on the pitch, everything he touched turned to shit, but he’s miraculously resuscitated his career, is currently the club’s top scorer, and the fans are showin him the love. Point is, if Mido doesn’t learn to put his money where his mouth is he’ll merely go down in the annals of sports history as the Egyptian footballer that coulda been somebody…not much of an accomplishment considering under achievement is a national pastime.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous zoss said...

Couldn't agree more, Basil, particularly about the Shehata incident:
Hassan Shehata ought not to have taken the bait, but if you watch the video again, he prolongs the exchange and defaults to that classic Egyptian gesture of opening his arms and raising his shoulders ("2a3meilak eih ya3ni?"). He reacted to his player because he isn't (and will never be) secure in his position.

And, Jester, I don't get the sense that he's looking for love. Which is something I love about him.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Basil Fawlty said...

Zoss and I are on the same page: when you're the villain of the piece or, more accurately, when you don't mind BEING the villain of the piece, you couldn't give a hoot about the love. My point(s) about Mido aren't about performance (you can't argue that he's underperformed, just like you can't argue that he's an effective striker) nor about the love that he gets. It's about attitude and a balls to the walls sense of entitlement that Egyptians just don't have. And that they need to have because that's the difference between talented players and talented players who win.

As for love, who gives a shit about that? In the words of a wise man, I don't care if you love me or hate me, but you will respect me. I certainly don't like Mido but I respect the hell out of him.

11:37 PM  
Blogger jokerman said...

played for 5 top clubs before the age of 22, spells danger in the football world, as they keep tossing him around to eachother. Problematic players like mido will end up playing in less glamorous clubs if he isnt careful, remember Anelka? collymore? the guy isnt consistent & thinks much of himself when he isnt that great, remember how you didnt include halle bery on character grounds? Mido has issues & plenty of chips on his shoulder.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Basil Fawlty said...

I agree with all that, completely. It doesn't invalidate my original point that other Egyptian players can learn from his arrogance and example. He may be balls but he's also got balls.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Cowtown girl said...

What about dancing?! That influences a country's success in soccer - think Brazil ;) The Egyptian male version of dancing consists of getting down on their knees and ogling at girls gyrating their hips. That can't help on the soccer field.

I like your insight re. Egyptian society suppressing individuality though. Keep the soccer posts coming!

2:49 PM  

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