“A striker from Egypt? Very unusual.”
It could easily be a quote from Yer Da, but those were actually the words of former Wigan owner Dave Whelan after Amr Zaki signed for the club in 2008.
The towering striker was the original Egyptian trailblazer in the Premier League and produced form that has surely inspired Salah to his successes, right?
Zaki scored 22 goals in 55 games for his former side Al Zamalek and was known as ‘The Egyptian Gladiator’ by supporters.
Also an absolute boss on the international stage, the striker guided Egypt to AFCON glory in 2008 and ended the tournament as the best goalscorer in the world according to FIFA rankings.
This form caught the attention of Steve Bruce who fought off competition to get Zaki playing for the Latics.
The Egyptian’s signature was sealed for a measly loan fee of £1million – what a steal.
“Anyone with a one in two strike rate or better over 50 odd international games knows where the back of the net is,” said a jubilant Bruce.
“I am convinced, having seen him personally on several occasions, that this boy can do the business.”
“I’ve come to England to score goals,” said Zaki after the transfer… ambitious claims from a striker there.
With a bulldog like approach which would make even Carlos Tevez jealous, Zaki made an immediate impact in English football’s top flight.
Salah’s idol scored on his league debut against West Ham and a week later netted a brace against Premier League new-boys Hull City.
Zaki added his fourth in as many games, scoring against Sunderland in September, a goal which put him joint top of the goal-scoring charts alongside Portsmouth’s Jermain Defoe.
The Latics man overtook Defoe as the league’s top scorer after he converted from the spot against Joe Hart as Wigan beat Man City… how times have changed.
The Egyptian’s form meant that Whelan changed his tune on the “unusual striker” and even compared Zaki’s style and physique to Alan Shearer – a claim that the Newcastle legend agreed with in 2008 LOL.
The crowning glory of Zaki’s season came at Anfield in October.
Wigan faced a tough test against Liverpool, but this didn’t faze the on-loan striker who gave his side the lead.
Dirk Kuyt restored parity before, on the stroke of half-time, Zaki met Antonio Valencia’s cross with a spectacular overhead-kick to restore the Latics lead.
Despite Liverpool winning 3-2 on the day, the match was remembered for Zaki stunning the Kop end.
Salah hasn’t even scored an overhead kick at Anfield yet, the absolute fraud.
At the turn of the year, Zaki was nominated for African Player of the Year, but sadly lost out to Emmanuel Adebayor. I demand a recount.
In January, a host of clubs wanted to sign the big man, Aston Villa having a bid of £14million turned down and Wigan failing with their own £8million effort.
The spectacular finish against Liverpool would prove to be his last goal from open play that season, with penalties against Portsmouth and Bolton all that would follow.
A month on the injury table was met with wage disputes and a disagreement with Bruce over the Egyptian’s fasting during Ramadan.
Bruce signed his Pharaohs team-mate Mido, on loan and personal problems between him and Zaki soon followed.
Following a World Cup qualifier against Zambia in April, Zaki disappeared for the fourth time that season, the striker reportedly going missing for 36 hours.
Bruce then spent the rest of the season lamenting the striker in the press, insisting that he had never worked with someone as unprofessional.
Zaki finished the season with 10 goals and one assist in 29 appearances.
The bidding war which had been expected actually never came and his stock declined rapidly.
A move to Portsmouth broke down after Zaki claimed he couldn’t play under an Israeli Manager in Avram Grant and be team-mates with an Algerian player, Nadir Belhadj.
Zaki disappeared back to Zamalek before he made a short-lived return to England in January 2010, signing on loan for struggling Hull City.
Unsurprisingly, the tactical mastery of Iain Dowie couldn’t get the forward back to his best, as Zaki failed to score in six appearances.
The forward picked up a serious knee injury in April 2010 and the Tigers decided to terminate the loan early.
Injuries would prove to blight Zaki for the rest of his career.
Spells in Turkey, Ukraine, Kuwait, Morocco and Lebanon all followed, before a return to Egypt with El Mokawloon, the side which gave Salah his first chance.
August 16th 2015 was a sad day in football as the Pharaohs striker announced his retirement from the game, seven years to the day of his first goal in the Premier League.
Forget Salah’s unbelievable season, the Liverpool man had two bites of the cherry in English football, Zaki only needed one year to boss it.
Long live the real Egyptian king.
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