Amr Zaki: Wigan's jewel of the Nile

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The Independent Football

He is currently the Premier League's top goalscoring commodity but it will require a brave or extremely wealthy individual to secure the services of Amr Zaki on a permanent basis.

Twice this summer Steve Bruce took his life in his own hands, driving the manic streets of Cairo on his mission to buy him from the Zamalek club who, as Wigan put it, “made all sorts of threatening noises” to keep him. There were also unspecified “scuffles behind the scenes” as the Zamalek president Mamdouh Abbas, with bodyguards in tow, resisted Wigan's overtures. Bruce said this week that he regretted only signing the Premier League's top scorer on a season's loan but in the circumstances even that seems an accomplishment. The player's immediate future at the JJB seems secure. There is no clause in the loan contract for Zamalek to take him back (and sell him) so all other offers are off until the summer.

It's been some scrum for the son of a car parts shop worker who was playing for a petrol company's team when he attracted Zamalek's attention. The 25-year-old's seven league goals have been a surprise to many and Bruce was scoffed at when he quoted the player's international statistics this summer - 29 goals in 48 games, making him No1 in the Fifa rankings. Single-mindedness seems to be the player's key quality.

Zaki admits that since childhood he has been “the sort of person who turns all of his attention to something and go all of the way. I got in trouble at school because of it - but I would not want anyone else to think this is good and do the same.” There was also support from his family, who provided financial incentives to him for performing well, despite his father being out of work for many years after an accident. He clearly doesn't yet adhere to the celebrity culture, despite having moved out of the Cairo suburb of Giza out of courtesy to his neighbours who found thousands of fans beneath their balconies. “It's not my concern to be selfish and think about myself,” he said. “I am always thinking about the team. I don't like to talk a lot; I don't like to concentrate on myself.”

The Wigan kit man may beg to differ on the last point, considering the palaver which surrounded which number Zaki might wear on his back. “When I came here, they provided me with four or five different numbers, like 20 and 22, which I wasn't happy about,” Zaki reveals. Number 13 - the one he settled on - is also "one of the bad luck numbers in the Arabic culture as well,” he says. But there were good omens. “My date of birth is 31 March 1983, so there are three different threes in my date of birth.” Why didn't the kit man think of that?

But jerseys aside, the acclimatisation has been a healthy one. Zaki's unhappy time in 2006 at Lokomotiv Moscow, where he didn't play a game, suggested that cold Tuesdays in Lancashire might not be his thing. But he has been genuinely surprised by the Wigan fans' response to him - Walk like an Egyptian songs can't be too far away - not to mention Emile Heskey's. Never one for over-simplifications, he rejects suggestions that his partnership with the England forward resembles the one he struck up with Middlesbrough's Mido in the Egypt set-up. “Mido and Heskey are similar in some respects in that they are both good headers of the ball,” he says. “But Mido is playing with his left foot while Heskey is playing with his right foot. The way of playing in Egypt is also slightly different from the way you are playing here. In Egypt, we are concentrating on the ball being on the ground but here we are concentrating on the high balls. But Emile he is good in the air which works with my movement.”

The only issue of interest tomorrow is whether he can add to his extraordinary seven-goal Premier League salvo when Aston Villa arrive. "I don't want to tempt fate by looking too far ahead,” he says. “My aim is to score goals and help the team and I hope that helps to earn me a permanent deal because I want to stay in the Premier League.” Wigan will be happy to make that happen.

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