When Amr Zaki joined Wigan Athletic on loan in the summer of 2008, very little was known about the striker throughout Europe. He was a 25-year old striker who had been playing for Egyptian club Zamalek since 2006 and had never plied his trade in Europe. Nothing much was expected from the Egypt international, but this loan spell delivered so much, at least initially.
While this is undoubtedly a breakthrough loan spell, a player on loan from the Egyptian top flight bursting onto the scene in the Premier League, the rest of Zaki’s career did not reflect the promise this loan showed. Following the end of the loan in 2009, Zaki returned to Zamalek, where he begrudgingly stayed until 2012. A failed loan spell to Hull City in 2010 where Zaki managed just six appearances and failed to find the net preceded a potential move to Portsmouth. Zaki ultimately refused to sign for Portsmouth due to his refusal to play with players of certain nationalities. Just one of the many controversies which more than played their part in Zaki’s failure to recapture the form shown in his breakthrough loan spell at Wigan.
Perhaps his record for the national side better reflects his talents, with 30 goals in 63 Egypt appearances a more than respectable tally for the man known in his homeland as the ‘Egyptian gladiator’ due to his bulldozing approach.
Wigan Athletic Loan
Zaki arrived on loan at Wigan on 22nd July 2008, with the Latics paying a £1.5 million loan fee for the striker’s services. His goal return for Zamalek had been modest, with Zaki managing 17 goals in two seasons, however his international record of 27 goals in 48 games meant that he was ranked by FIFA at the time as top of their player rankings. It was Wigan manager Steve Bruce’s recommendation, and ex-chairman Dave Whelan has since said of Bruce’s interest “When Bruce first mentioned him, I thought: a striker from Egypt? Very unusual.” Whelan trusted his manager, however, and so started Zaki’s brief career in Europe.
The reason Zaki’s season at Wigan is so memorable is that he started the season in inspired form. No one had heard of this striker from Egypt, but after eight Premier League games he had scored seven goals and earned comparisons to the Premier League’s greatest ever goalscorer, Alan Shearer. The seventh of these goals was his second in a brace against Liverpool and was all the more remarkable due to the fact it was an audacious scissor kick. Despite his best efforts, Wigan would lose 3-2 at Anfield.
The hulk-like figure’s early season form had started frenzied transfer rumours, with Real Madrid even apparently interested in the striker at the time. Chairman Dave Whelan was the first to liken Zaki to Shearer, when he exclaimed that: “when you look at this lad and his build…he has the same confidence when he gets the ball, he knows where the goal is, he doesn’t need to look up, he has this instinct.” Steve Bruce was similarly impressed stating that Zaki “was going to have a long future in the Premier League”.
Bruce was wrong. The stunning bicycle kick at Anfield would be the last goal Zaki would score from open play in the Premier League. Three more goals would follow, all from the penalty spot. Once Zaki’s loan expired in the summer of 2009, his only other taste of Premier League football would be six games on loan at Hull City in 2010. Zaki had gone from the hottest property in world football, after his electric start to life in the Premier League, to a man going back to Zamalek with his tail between his legs.
Zaki still finished the season as Wigan’s top goalscorer, with his ten league goals supplemented by one goal in the League Cup. However, he went from the top end of the league scoring charts to a disappointing baron run in front of goal. Bruce grew weary of Zaki’s attitude and labelled the Egyptian as the most unprofessional player he had ever worked with, after Zaki returned from international duty late for the fourth time that season and was fined the maximum amount possible. A far cry from the man Bruce had described in the midst of his purple patch in front of goal as “refreshing” and “a delight to work with.”
This was Zaki’s breakthrough loan spell, and it should have opened doors to a successful career in Europe. The battering ram of a striker with an eye for goal never managed to recapture the form shown in this opening eight Premier League games, and saw himself replaced in the starting line up by January signings Hugo Rodallega and Mido increasingly frequently after Christmas. Wigan took the decision not to make his loan permanent, a decision which would have seemed outrageous before Christmas, and Zaki returned to Egypt.
Despite the fact that Zaki was still only 26 when he left Wigan, he would only score nine club goals in the rest of his career. Perhaps Zaki is the very definition of a one season wonder, but it’s hard to envisage that he couldn’t have forged a very successful career had his attitude and application been better. Zaki would play in Turkey, Kuwait, Morocco, Lebanon, and at other clubs in Egypt, making a handful of appearances for each, before eventually retiring in 2016.
It’s hard not to think what might have been for Zaki after such a fine start to life in Europe. Bruce expressed disappointment about how things had gone for the striker while speaking on why the club didn’t make Zaki’s move permanent in 2009. Bruce stated, with regret, that “he (Zaki) had big personal problems in his life” before adding that “you’d have to ask Zaki why he chose to go down the path he did.” A striker who had the world at his feet, albeit very briefly, must look back with tinges of bitterness about how his career panned out following his breakthrough loan spell in England