Working like an Egyptian

Ahmed Elmohamady bucks the trend of irksome players Steve Bruce usually deals with from African nation.

Ahmed Elmohamady typifies an old-fashioned winger in the way he hugs the touchline.
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History has a strange habit of repeating itself. The first time Steve Bruce signed an Egyptian he was, despite his achievements for his national team, almost unknown in England. That changed swiftly as the arrival from Africa made an immediate impact.

Two years on, Bruce's employers have changed - then it was Wigan Athletic, now it is Sunderland - along with the identity of his recruit - then Amr Zaki, now Ahmed Elmohamady - but there is a distinct whiff of deja vu. A mysterious newcomer has been propelled to prominence.

The hope in the north east of England is that the parallels do not continue and that initial optimism will lead to lasting happiness. In 2008, Zaki announced himself with seven goals in his first nine league games before being deemed the most unprofessional player Bruce had ever encountered. The manager was first annoyed and then relieved he opted for a season-long loan rather than a permanent transfer.

Elmohamady's first nine matches have brought rather fewer goals - none, to be precise - but, after he was borrowed from ENPPI in his homeland for the season, there is plenty of talk about a longer stay in England.

"We'd love to make it permanent. He's a gem," Bruce said at the weekend. While there are suggestions that the right-sided player's scorching start has attracted the attention of Arsenal and Manchester City, his agent has insisted his future lies at the Stadium of Light.

"This talk has nothing to do with reality; what is important now is that he signs a permanent contract with Sunderland," Nader Shawqi said.

In one respect, it is no surprise the 23-year-old has been quick to make his mark. Searing pace is his most obvious forte, though his persistence and ability to cross the ball have also helped create a favourable impression.

In an Egypt side who won this year's African Cup of Nations, Elmohamady was a flying wing-back. In Sunderland, he is very much seen as a right winger in a 4-5-1 formation and one of the principal suppliers to Darren Bent, Sunderland's main goalscorer, albeit with a grounding in a more defensive role apparent when he tracks back.

In a side that has garnered plenty of plaudits, many have come Elmohamady's way. He has been described as the man of the match against each of Arsenal, Liverpool and Aston Villa. The list of left-backs to encounter problems against him includes Gael Clichy, Daniel Agger, John O'Shea and Stephen Warnock. As Bruce said on Saturday, he has the physique and the temperament to cope with the peculiar demands of English football.

"He is different," the manager said. "He is a frustration at times, he is a bit naive, but he has blistering pace and he is fantastic in the air for the size of him.

"He has been a fantastic addition for us, somebody who has taken to it and is enjoying the challenges of playing in the Premier League.

"I can say that the Egyptian players I have had in the past have proved a bit difficult, if that's the right word. He is a delightful kid, who wants to try and do it right, and he has been very impressive."

The one criticism is in his impotence in front of goal. Sunderland's reliance on Bent has been exacerbated by the fact that none of their defenders or midfielders have mustered a league goal thus far. Elmohamady, who is yet to even register a shot on target, is a particular culprit.

That the best part of 40 caps for Egypt has brought a solitary strike is not encouraging but, in his willingness to hug the touchline, he is very much an old-fashioned winger whose interpretation of his duties rarely involves straying into the penalty area.

The challenge he poses to full-backs is simple: catch me if you can. His manager has had difficulties with elusive Egyptians in the past. Bruce could entertain with his stories of white-knuckle taxi rides around Cairo to clinch the deal for Zaki, while the striker's habit of returning late from any international frustrated.

Securing the signature of Elmohamady on long-term contract should be simpler. Besides repelling the interest of newly converted admirers, Sunderland's greatest problem may be one of semantics. The player with "Elmohamady" on his back has also been called Al-Muhammadi, Al-Mohamadi and El Mohamady. Whichever, it is a name to remember.