By Hatem Maher
Egyptian football fans urge Abou-Treika to reverse his decision to retire at the end of the year after he put in another brilliant display to steer Ahly to a record-extending eighth African Champions League triumph.
Drawing cheers from the crowd with his trademark mesmerising moves and passes, Mohamed Abou-Treika was taken off to a standing ovation as the Ahly fans grew more emotional, fearing they would not have another chance to chant the name of their talismanic playmaker.
Orlando Pirates’ visiting players huffed and puffed to contain the mercurial schemer, whose agility, uncanny passes and poaching abilities are age-defying.
He scored what has become a customary decisive goal to set Ahly on their way to a 2-0 home victory before around 35,000 fans at the Arab Contractors Stadium in Cairo on Sunday, adding another African Champions League title to his heavily-laden trophy cabinet.
The modest, media-shy Abou-Treika, nicknamed the saint for his mild manners, snubbed the routine walk to the dugout after being substituted in the second half, preferring instead to spend some time on the running track to wave at the jubilant crowd.
He also jumped above the advertising hoardings and rushed towards them after opening the scoring nine minutes after the restart, running in a zigzag pattern in a typical goal celebration.
It might have been his last home dance.
The 35-year-old said he would retire at the end of the year after Egypt suffered a humiliating 6-1 defeat to Ghana in the first leg of the World Cup qualifying playoff, making it difficult for him to realise a long-held dream of featuring in football’s most prestigious event in the twilight of his career.
His last destination is likely to be Morocco when Ahly make a fifth appearance at the Club World Cup next month, a tournament on which he left an indelible mark after scoring four goals to become its joint all-time top scorer along with Argentinean forward Lionel Messi and Brazilian striker Denilson.
‘Football will never be the same’
“Please, carry on. This can’t be happening, football will never be the same,” said one Facebook user as a flurry of comments flooded social networking websites calling on Abou-Treika to reverse his decision.
“How can a player of such attributes call it a day when he is in his heyday? He is one of our few sources of joy in this country so he can’t just leave,” said another user, with his Facebook profile picture featuring Abou-Treika with a “thank you” message.
Some supporters of Ahly’s arch-rivals Zamalek said they hold Abou-Treika in high regard despite admitting that he remains their foe, having been the White Knights’ nemesis since joining the Red Devils in 2004.
He haunted them on numerous occasions, netting 13 goals against Zamalek to become the Cairo derby’s all-time joint top scorer, eclipsing many of Egypt’s greatest footballers including striker Hossam Hassan, who had played for both clubs.
Abou-Treika, who is arguably Egypt’s best-ever footballer, will probably be best remembered for his knack of settling deciders with last-gasp goals, as one of his unsung capabilities is how he keeps his composure when it matters most.
His decisive strikes include a late winner at Tunisia’s Sfaxien in the 2006 Champions League final and the low shot which gave Egypt the 2008 Nations Cup title at the expense of Cameroon with the clock ticking.
“I will do everything in my power to try to convince Abou-Treika that he should not retire and play at the World Club Cup in Morocco. He is still has a lot to offer,” Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef said after the win over Orlando Pirates.
“I replaced him in the dying minutes to give him a chance to salute his fans, maybe for the final time if he insists on his decision to hang up his boots.”
It remains to be seen whether Youssef will be successful.
“If we are resigned to losing him, then Ahly should retire the number 22,” said an Ahly fan, referring to the jersey Abou-Treika wore with club and country during a decorated career.