Egypt playmaker retires after Club World Cup
10 December ~ The FIFA Club World Cup, a big competition in the rest of the world but one European clubs and fans probably couldn't care less about, gets underway in Morocco this week. Those European supporters who do tune in will no doubt be looking out for Ronaldinho's return for Atlético Mineiro and Pep Guardiola's Bayern side (though Guardiola cited last Wednesday's away win at Augsburg as more important than any match in the forthcoming tournament). Other participants Raja Casablanca and Auckland City are hardly household names. But the real story of the Club World Cup will, or should, be Al-Ahly's Mohamed Aboutrika.
The 2013 Club World Cup represents one final hurrah for the Egyptian playmaker, who announced that it will be "goodbye to football and many thanks to all" when the tournament concludes. He has been an extraordinary player on the pitch. In over 200 games for Al-Ahly, he has scored over 150 goals and delivered five African Champions League titles, the most recent of which came only last month after a victory over South African side Orlando Pirates. In over 100 caps for Egypt, he has scored nearly 40 goals and delivered two Africa Cup of Nations titles. All this is more than enough to secure his deserved icon status.
But Aboutrika has also shone off the pitch, especially in the later years of his career. He was never your "normal" footballer, of course: a philosophy graduate and humanitarian activist, he has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian statehood (urging all fans to "Sympathize with Gaza" after scoring in the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations), taken part in a number of anti-poverty campaigns in Africa and even commissioned the building of his own mosque in Ghana.
Since the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, though, Aboutrika's politicisation has been a particular source of inspiration to fans. He sided with the Ultras Ahlawy, a militant Al-Ahly supporters' group that proved crucial in deposing Hosni Mubarak, and after the Port Said Stadium disaster in 2012, in which 72 Al-Ahly fans were killed in what remain suspicious circumstances, he became the focal point around which supporters rallied. Along with his team-mates, his next few weeks were spent at the funerals of the deceased, including a 14-year-old boy who, immediately after the match, died in Aboutrika's arms in the away dressing room.
The footballing successes that came afterwards – Aboutrika somehow guided Al-Ahly to two African Champions League wins despite a suspended domestic league – were successes for the 72. When he moved on loan to Baniyas amid the post-revolutionary upheaval, Aboutrika made a point of wearing No 72. And he did the same when he lifted the most recent African Champions League trophy, wearing a personalised No 72 shirt over his Al-Ahly jersey. He had initially decided to retire there and then after Port Said, but later reconsidered. As he himself put it: "I decided that I needed to play on for the people who died that night."
It's a shame that Aboutrika never reached a World Cup with Egypt, their defeat by Ghana in the final qualification play-off last month meaning that it will be Morocco 2013 and not Brazil 2014 in which the player bows out. But the Club World Cup will nevertheless be greatly enhanced by his presence. For his skills and for his integrity, catch him in action while you still have the chance. Kieran Dodds