For Egypt’s new breed of footballers, everything’s in a nickname

Older players, such as goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, prefer to keep their nicknames more informal.
Sunday 17/06/2018
Egypt’s national team goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, also known as Al-Sad Al-Aaly, arrives for a training session, on June 11. (AFP)
Shot-stopping prowess. Egypt’s national team goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, also known as Al-Sad Al-Aaly, arrives for a training session, on June 11. (AFP)

LONDON - With the FIFA World Cup under way, Egyptians are looking forward to seeing fan favourites such as Shikabala, Kahraba and Trezeguet perform on the world stage. It’s a shame that Koka, Benzema and Obama did not make the squad.

Egypt’s national squad, more than any before, is characterised by the phenomenon of the laqab — “nickname.” Veteran Zamalek forward Mahmoud Abdel Razek is more likely to be recognised by the name Shikabala, because of his resemblance to star Zambian midfielder Webster Chikabala. Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim Soliman is better known to Egyptian fans as Kahraba, which means “electricity” in Arabic, due to his fast pace on the wing.

“The trend started in the [2000s] with the likes of Shikabala and Mido, the two most notable ones at the start. Egyptians like giving each other nicknames so everyone gets one but some stick so much they put them on their shirts,” said Ahmed Yousef, an editor at Egyptian football website KingFut.

Mido — Ahmed Hossam Hussein Abdelhamid — is the star Egyptian striker who plied his trade mostly in Europe before retiring in 2013. Since then he has had a career as a coach at several Egyptian clubs, including his native Zamalek. “Mido” is a common Egyptian nickname for Ahmed or Mohamed.

Other Egyptian football players’ nicknames are anything but common. Winger Mahmoud Ibrahim Hassan is better known as Mahmoud Trezeguet. He, however, is not the Trezeguet that most football fans immediately envision.

The Egyptian midfielder, currently playing in Turkey for Kasimpasa, was given the nickname by his youth team coach due to his resemblance to the well-known French striker David Trezeguet.

The French World Cup winner addressed the topic a few years ago, jokingly telling Belgium’s Radio et Television Belge Francophone: “The hair is definitely not the same and the playing position, too, but, I will have to ask my father if he had been to Egypt before.”

For many Egyptian footballers, a nickname is an easy way to stand out from the crowd, particularly given the sheer number of Mohameds, Mahmouds and Ahmeds in their midst. There were six Mohameds, four Ahmeds and four Mahmouds on Egypt’s provisional World Cup squad.

“There are four players in the Egyptian squad named Mahmoud and they are the four with nicknames. This adds to the point that maybe it is to do with common names,” Yousef said.

Older players, such as goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, who at age 45 could become the oldest footballer to play at a World Cup this summer, prefer to keep their nicknames more informal. El-Hadary is known as Al-Sad Al-Aaly — “High Dam” — due to his shot-stopping prowess but would not dream of putting this on the back of his shirt.

“I feel it is a way that young players are using to gain extra fame. There is nothing wrong with being known as something like ‘Al-Sad Al-Aaly’ or the ‘Egyptian King’ because they are not formal but a number of players are using it as their official names on their shirts,” said Yousef.

The “Egyptian King” is Mohamed Salah, or “Mo Salah” as he has come to be known in the United Kingdom after a tremendous debut season with Liverpool in which he broke the Premier League record for most goals in a season and was named PFA player of the year. Salah hardly needs a memorable nickname to stand out.

One player who failed to make to the final squad is striker Ahmed Hassan Mahgoub, who plays for Portugal’s S.C. Braga. His nickname — Koka — is reportedly related to his childhood liking for the soft drink. The 25-year-old striker should not be confused with retired midfielder Ahmed Hassan who equalled the record for the world’s most-capped footballer in 2011 having played 178 times for Egypt.

While 23-year-old Zamalek defender Mahmoud Hamdi has taken the laqab of El-Winsh (“The Winch”) due to his strong defensive presence.

This is not to say that Egyptian footballers in previous eras disdained nicknames, only that they were much less frequent. In the last 1990s and early 2000s, defender Mohamed Hassan Abboud stood out as Mohamed Kamouna, taking his nickname from the spice cumin.

He wasn’t the only player to have a nickname based on a condiment. In the 1970s, Al Ahli defensive midfielder Abdel Moneim Hussein was better known as Shatta — or chili. He played for the same team — although not in the same era — as striker Ahmed Abdel Moneim, who took the nickname Koushary from the famous Egyptian street food staple, which is often served with shatta.

More recently, Mohamed Soliman was better known as Hommos. This was not due to his liking for the chickpea-based dip but rather a nickname from when he was very young and he would dance to the Egyptian puppet show “El Leila El Kebira,” which featured a well-known song about the dish.

The phenomenon recently has seen Egyptian footballers take nicknames based on resemblances to more famous figures, such as Shikabala and Trezeguet. Al Ahly winger Karim Walid was nicknamed “Nedved.” He doesn’t look particularly like the Czech football legend but his style of play bears resemblance, fans say.

Other Egyptians who have nicknames based on who they resemble include Zamalek midfielder Youssef “Obama” Ibrahim, owing to his resemblance to former US President Barack Obama. Haras El Hodoud striker Mohamed Farouk is called “Benzema” because of his resemblance to France striker Karim Benzema.

While some of the more outlandish nicknames include Mohamed Nagy, known as Gedo. In Egyptian Arabic, “Gedo” means “Grandfather.” Nagy was given the nickname because of his close relationship with his grandfather. Midfielder Mostafa Elhady is known as “Afroto” (“Little Genie”) for his speed and skills. Neither player, however, made the grade for the trip to Russia to the disappointment of nickname fans everywhere.

With the World Cup under way, Egyptians hope that Kahraba can electrify the crowd, Trezeguet lives up to his namesake and, of course, that Egyptian King Mohamed Salah comes back from injury as prolific as ever.