Just mention the name Hazem Emam to any Egyptian who follows football and they are likely to wax lyrical about his status and demeanour – on and off the pitch.
Emam is one of the most loved and respected football players in Egypt and the Arab world. A glittering career with Zamalek and a spell with Serie A’s Udinese as the first Egyptian to play in Serie A, Emam proved himself to be one of the most skilful and intelligent players Egypt has ever seen.
Currently a pundit for Al Jazeera Sport, Emam now enjoys a platform to share his ideas and thoughts about the Serie A and Sport360 sat down with him to discuss Italian coaches, Serie A’s top teams and, of course, a certain Mohamed Salah.
Egypt superstar Salah has been a revelation in Italy since first moving on loan to Fiorentina from Chelsea in January. He impressed so much in his six months in Serie A that Roma moved to bring him to the capital on a permanent deal in the summer. Expectation has been building to fever pitch, however, with the Egyptian press piling on the pressure and hype, something Emam does not think has been helpful.
“Do not listen to all the gossip coming from Egypt would be advice,” Emam tells Sport360. “Do your thing, and continue with your performance. Stick to Roma as the club will teach you many things and give you the experience needed to succeed.”
Many Egyptian stars have gone abroad to Europe but Emam believes that Serie A presents the most difficult challenge, and should not be on young players’ radars until they are more experienced.
“It is not possible for young Egyptian players to make it in the Italian league,” Emam opines. “Serie A is a rather tactical league, and these players will have to be experienced enough to adapt to the approaches there.
“Salah managed to adapt because he had different adventures from Basel to Chelsea to Fiorentina. That is how he is succeeding there.”
Salah is impressing under French boss Rudi Garcia but Emam – who played for the likes of Alberto Zaccheroni and Francesco Guidolin at Udinese – believes that Italian managers are the crème-de-la-creme .
“Italian managers are the best managers in the world,” Emam says. “There are Italians who shocked Europe and the world with their success. Roberto Di Matteo when he won the Champions League against Bayern Munich with Chelsea. Giovanni Trapattoni with Inter, Marcelo Lippi with Italy, Fabio Capello, Carlo Ancelotti. The list goes on!”
The Egyptian legend touched on the big teams of Serie A, stating that Roma’s approach keeps them in contention for the league, while Inter Milan’s tactics are winning them few admirers, despite their position at the top of the table.
“Roma’s football is a joy to watch and I think that they are title-contenders this season. The signings that they have made are on point and sporting director Walter Sabbatini should be lauded for his efforts.
“Inter Milan might be winning, but the manner of it is not very attractive. It seems that Roberto Mancini only cares about the points. It is rare to see this team winning by three or four goals. That magic touch is not there now.
“You feel that the team is more like an army, with a discipline and a routine that are quite astonishing!”
Inter’s city rivals AC Milan began slowly in the league, winning just two of their first five games, with Emam suggesting the indifferent start was down to the formation that was initially implemented when Sinisa Mihajlovic took charge of the Rossoneri.
“I feel that the 4-3-2-1 formation was inadequate as the team did not have the defensive mentality to pull it off properly,” Emam explains. “Keisuke Honda has failed to adapt to the false nine in Mihajlovic’s system and the attack was not well-organised.
"The coach reverted to the old 4-2-3-1 and since then the team are performing much better. The cohesion is there and the wingers are doing their jobs.”
Juventus’ poor run of form in the league has not gone unnoticed by the former Zamalek great, who comments: “Juventus’ season is not going well, but keep in mind that some of the leaders of this team has left after almost winning everything: Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, and Arturo Vidal.
“No adequate replacements were made, and Max Allegri’s careful approach is not helping.”
Emam’s passion for Serie A is clear and having watched closely so far this season, he believes that Roma and Napoli will be the main contenders for the Scudetto, dismissing Inter and AC Milan’s chances.
“For me, the Serie A title will be fought between Roma and Napoli,” Emam concludes. “They both produce excellent football. AC Milan and Inter are both out of the title race – their main aim is to qualify for the Champions League.
“If Napoli wins the league it is because of their fighting spirit. I have not seen a team that plays with so much passion. I hope that Napoli win it!”
Original interview was conducted by Sport360 Arabia's Ahmed Ezz.
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