Egypt’s qualification for next year’s World Cup in Russia may have come as a surprise to many, but once given a more detailed look, it is easily justifiable, for their talent is exceptionally blooming. They have strong performers in each aspect of the pitch, a fine coach in the form of Héctor Cúper whose experience has brought the best out of his players, a frenzied fanbase that has only given the country more hope and an array of players that can continue helping the country progress in the sport for years to come – an area that is led by one Ramadan Sobhi, who is making the most of his chances in the Premier League with Stoke City.
The 20-year-old saw his popularity rise while at Egyptian giants Al-Ahly, having attracted interest from some of Europe’s best clubs in 2016. A player with deft feet, one who combines his speed and strength with power to create the perfect match for the roughness of the Premier League, he has settled in well and seems certain to be on the plane to Russia next summer, where he will display what he has got in his locker on the world stage. Vouched for by his former Al-Ahly coach Martin Jol, who even asked his friend José Mourinho to keep tabs on his player, Sobhi’s stock has only risen over the last year, and Stoke have tied him down to a new five-year deal, much to their benefit.
Born in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, he’s joined the Al-Ahly books at the age of 10 after several trials with them, going on to make his debut at the age of 16, and an international debut at 17 years and 11 months old – Egypt’s second youngest player ever – quickly progressing to become one of the most in-demand African prospects in football.
Like Mido, Egypt’s youngest ever player, Sobhi too likes a fair share of controversy and hasn’t shied away from the spotlight. In a game against the eternal rival, Zemalek, Sobhi’s provocative piece of skill, where he stood on the ball before proceeding to pass it, caused anger amongst the opposition, as Hazem Emam violently displayed his frustration with a kick. He would do the same thing again just a few months later, and whether this was done to show disrespect or not, one thing is certain: Sobhi is no stranger to the big stage.
He’s even had a fall-out with his former coaching staff at Al-Ahly, but his off-pitch distractions shouldn’t overshadow his talents on the pitch, which he brings in abundance. A player filled with flair and brimming quality, Sobhi can change a game by himself. With his endless energy, Sobhi is able to contribute immensely on both halves of the pitch – an attribute that has gone down well with those in England, and it is that effort that has earned him so many plaudits, for his work for Stoke following his return from 2017’s African Cup Of Nations has been remarkable.
Another one of his key strengths is his link-up work and connection with his team-mates. A direct attacker, he is able to thread a pass to his attacking companions and create goal scoring opportunities out of nothing. A trait he has excelled at since his Al-Ahly days, it has become a trademark for him in the Premier League and while he is still young, fans in England can be sure to see more of this from him in the coming years. His phenomenal vision has been a crucial asset for club and country, and that is only set to get better in the future. Finally, his greatest strength is his work on the ball while on the move. It is what has held him in such high regard and probably what earned him a move to the Premier League, and if given the chance, it will shine at the World Cup next year amongst an exciting Egyptian side. A player who can dribble with explosive speed and solid strength, it has proven to be difficult to shrug him off the ball while he is on the move and that is why he is such a dangerous footballer. Take his performance against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City from the 2016/17 season, where he kept Bacary Sagna on his toes for the most part and continuously tormented the City back-line with his skill and unpredictable nature. The match at the Etihad was one of the highlights in a fine debut season in England.
As Stoke have slowly shifted away from their hard-hitting, direct style to a more fluent approach, Sobhi has been an example of the flair needed to aid this mega transition. Another one of his performances last season, coming against the now-relegated Middlesbrough, has arguably been his best display in the infamous red-and-white. In a display of his trickery and confidence, he often bamboozled the inconsistent Middlesbrough defence and even prompted his team-mate Jonathan Walters to label him as “Ramadona.” And although he probably won’t reach the same levels as the 1986 World Cup winner, he might just be at the same level of popularity already. Egyptians are known for their crazy support, and Ramadan Sobhi hasn’t been left alone.
His shirt number at Stoke, 32, is often seen on kids’ backs, and the club’s website nearly crashed on the day he signed, which, in its own superficial way, may be a matter of pride for Sobhi. He’s only 20, and his fame will only continue to rise as he gets older, and not just in his home country.
For now, though, Ramadan Sobhi has a long way to go, but the potential is well-evident. Still at quite a young age, he possesses the skill, determination, cockiness and confidence to make it to the very top and become one of Africa’s greatest-ever footballers. His first season in the Premier League displayed what he had in his locker and as he is given more opportunities, greater aspects will be unearthed for the world to see. The next year gives him the chance to show off what he’s got on the grandest stages, and for what we know about him so far, he will strut his stuff in the only way he knows.
By: Karan M. Tejwani/@karan_tejwani26