Ahmed Elmohamady: 'Elmo' happy he chose to go to Hull City and back
When Steve Bruce suggested dropping down to play in the Championship, he wasn't keen. The versatile Egyptian, who faces Chelsea on Sunday, tells Jack Pitt-Brooke how the move paid off
Tuesday 13 August 2013
Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Hull; it sounds like English football's equivalent of the famous Blackadder joke about universities. But Ahmed Elmohamady – known as "Elmo" – is listing the most popular Premier League clubs in Egypt, and his new side are near the top.
"I see a lot of people now wearing Hull City shirts in Egypt," Elmohamady says, towards the end of our interview, just before he signed his permanent deal at the KC Stadium.
But this is not just wishful seeing. Hull clambered back into the top flight last season thanks, in part, to Egyptian players and their Egyptian-born owner Assem Allam, who left Egypt for England in 1968 and bought the club in 2010. Allam signed Elmohamady, who won player of the season as they were promoted last year, as well as his compatriots Mohamed Gedo and Ahmed Fathy.
"It is very good to see an Egyptian owner in the Premier League, very good for the country and for players from Egypt, maybe the owner has bought players to help the country and the national team as well," Elmohamady says. "He came here 45 years ago, he is a very good man. First, he came to Hull and he just wanted Hull to go to the Premier League, it's his dream. After that, he wants Hull to be in Europe."
So, in this globalised age of the Premier League, this club from the Humber estuary find themselves healthily supported on the banks of the Nile.
"All the people in Egypt know about football in England," Elmohamady explains. "Everyone in Egypt thinks the Premier League is the best league in the world."
And when, on that mad final afternoon, when Hull despairingly drew with Cardiff City, only to be rescued by Watford's chaotic defeat to Leeds United, it was celebrated in Cairo too.
"Everyone was glad to see the players get promoted, it was the first time in history some Egyptian players have helped a team in England get promoted into the Premier League – it was very good for the fans, and for the players."
That was, even by the standards of the Championship, a remarkable day of comic-book drama, in which both Hull and Watford seemed to be competing to throw away the second promotion place rather than seize it. Ultimately, somehow, Hull came through, prompting Elmohamady's famous dancing in the tunnel that made him a YouTube sensation.
"I can't believe that day," the attacking right-back remembers, still looking gratefully bemused some time afterwards. "It was one of the most important days of my life, a great day for me, for all the players, the staff and the fans.
"Everyone was watching the Watford game for the last 10 minutes, but there were three or four players in the toilet. Everyone was excited when Leeds scored their second goal, and then after the game we went crazy, dancing. Because we worked hard all season and played very good football, that is why God got us promoted."
The promotion proved a vindication for Elmohamady putting his trust in Steve Bruce – the man who signed him for Sunderland in 2010 – as he eventually decided to step down into the Championship in order to come back up.
"I spoke with Brucey and told him it's a risk for me to go from the Premier League to the Championship. But because he is experienced he told me it's not a risk, it's good to play football again, to show everyone you're a good player and to show the manager of the national team. The Championship is not bad, it's a good league, very strong physically, just have a one-year loan and you will see after.
"I spoke with a lot of people – my agent, my wife, friends, and some people told me I had to think – but I took his advice. He was captain of Manchester United, he has a lot of brains and experience, and now I'm back in the Premier League."
Elmohamady started well, with a 3-1 home win over Bolton Wanderers and from then on it was intense but successful, ending in a second-placed finish and a player of the year award, which he attributes to the personal management of Bruce. "Because he is experienced, he knows everything, and he is right."
Bruce was right – Elmohamady is back in the top flight, has signed a permanent deal, and should start at Stamford Bridge on Sunday . "I can't wait to play in the Premier League again, with players like Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, who you watch on TV."
But like many players in this year's league, he will have one eye on next summer. Egypt, despite their excellent African Nations Cup record – Elmohamady is quick to point out that they won it three times in succession in 2006, 2008 and 2010 – have not reached a World Cup since 1990.
Football has a crucial role in a troubled country, especially after last year's Port Said tragedy, but Elmohamady's happiest moments have come playing for the national team. The best game of his life, he says, was the 4-0 semi-final defeat of Algeria at the 2010 African Nations Cup, and the best atmosphere at the 2-0 defeat of the same opposition in 2009, in front of 120,000 people in Cairo.
"Everyone now dreams about a World Cup, we haven't played at one for 23 years. We have to show everyone the Egypt that has won three African Nations Cups. We play against Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon – these teams are in the World Cup, we beat them but don't go – so we have to go and show everyone."
The Pharaohs will play off in October and November for a spot in Brazil. If they make it, there may even be a pocket of support for them in Kingston upon Hull.
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