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Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 18:44 UK

Zaki's Premier League ambition

By Alistair Magowan

Amr Zaki
Zaki hits a wonder goal against Liverpool at Anfield
No matter how excited he was at seeing his Wigan team take a 2-1 lead at Anfield last Saturday, there must have been a nagging doubt in manager Steve Bruce's mind that the game was finally up.

Football's most famous Kop has seen some fine goals down the years but Amr Zaki's glorious volley which sent Wigan fans delirious finally revealed the Egyptian striker to the wider football world and in the same instance made Bruce's job of hanging on to the 25-year old that little bit harder.

Zaki is on a season-long loan at Wigan from Egyptian club Zamalek but as the Premier League's leading scorer with seven goals in eight games, it is unsurprising that several clubs have been in touch with the Cairo team about his future.

If only Bruce could turn back the clock to the time when he insisted employing his new recruit on-loan rather than "risk" the reported 7.25m which the two parties had agreed.

Bruce was mocked in some quarters when he signed Zaki in the first place after quoting Fifa statistics that he was rated as the best forward in the world with more than a goal every two games for his country.

But the former Manchester United defender was on to something and it is more of a surprise to some in African football it has taken so long for Zaki's talent to emerge here.

As if to underline Zaki's status in his homeland it has not been a complete shock he has adapted so well to Premier League football with Egypt coach Hassan Shehata saying he sees England as the best fit for his powerful style of play.

Amr Zaki
Zaki's best points are his physical power, his determination and persistence

Egypt coach Hassan Shehata

But the speed in which he has registered his goals have caught even former team-mates on the hop.

Hazem Emam, former captain and now board member at Zamalek, told BBC Sport: "We know that Amr is a very good player, and his build is very good which can help him play in England, but nobody expected that he could score seven goals in the first eight matches.

"Many people at the club are happy for him, all the management, the players; we are proud also.

"All the sports media are talking about Amr Zaki and he is one of the nominees for the African footballer of the year which is the first time for him."

African football fans will know that Zaki has played no small part in helping Egypt win the last two African Cup of Nations crowns.

His contribution to the title in 2006 was largely kept in the shade by fellow countryman Mido who spectacularly fell out with Shehata when the Egypt coach substituted the striker, now with Middlesbrough, during the semi-final against Senegal.

It was Zaki who came on to replace him and he scored the winner, taking Egypt to the final where they beat Ivory Coast on penalties.

Fast forward two years and Zaki scored four times as Egypt, with a team largely made up of home-based players, quietly won back-to-back titles while the European and African media paid too much attention to the likes of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria with their influx of European stars.

606: DEBATE

As BBC Sport revealed just before the tournament began in January, nearly three quarters of Premier League clubs had scouts at the tournament in Ghana so it raises questions as to why Zaki's form was not picked up on before now.

But former Nigeria captain Sunday Oliseh, who has played at Ajax and Juventus, thinks the reputations of other Egyptian players like Mido and former Spurs midfielder Hossam Ghaly may have counted against him.

"There is sometimes scepticism about buying African players," Oliseh told BBC Sport.

"From what I saw in the African Nations Cup in 2008, he should have been bought already by a big team in England.

"Some players in the past have not been able to settle and it helps a lot if you have already seen someone go before you on the road and seen them settle. Then you know what you are going to work with."

Zaki himself has struggled to settle outside Egypt. In 2006 he joined Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia from his former club ENPPI and did not manage one game before returning to Egypt with Zamalek.

Amr Zaki
It wasn't a big ambition for him to go to Russia and it wasn't his dream so he didn't settle well

Hazem Emam on Zaki's time at Lokomotiv Moscow

But Emam claims that cultural differences remain the biggest obstacle for an Egyptian playing abroad.

"Moscow was different, it was very cold and also it was the first time for Amr to go out from ENPPI," he said. "It's not a top club like Zamalek and everything happened suddenly for him I think.

"It wasn't a big ambition for him to go to Russia and it wasn't his dream so he didn't settle well.

"The hardest thing for the professionals who go to Europe has been the differences in community or society. I think that will be the hardest thing in front of Amr now, but in matches he will do great."

Emam, who was Zaki's captain, says his former team-mate is very respectful of those in charge and has a good sense of humour.

And from their time together he says it has always been Zaki's desire to play at one of the big four clubs in the Premier League.

"We were always talking together and he was telling me he needs to go and have the opportunity to play in a big competition like the Premier League," Emam said.

"By his performance so far he can play anywhere. I think if he plays for one of the big four, or even the top six or seven he will have more service, the players will create more chances so he will score more."

Despite winning the biennial African Cup of Nations six times, Egypt have not qualified for the World Cup since 1990.

Zaki's ability may have been slow to come into view in England, but with the 2010 World Cup looming, Egypt will hope he can help reverse their awful qualifying record.

If all goes to plan, by then the player sometimes known as the Egyptian Gladiator could be slaying opponents for a team at the highest level.



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see also
Liverpool 3-2 Wigan
18 Oct 08 |  Premier League
Bruce hails Wigan's awesome Zaki
29 Sep 08 |  African
Egypt 2-1 Senegal
07 Feb 06 |  African
The week's quotes
22 Jul 08 |  Fun and Games


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