Egyptian football revolution to take Africa by storm

Turki al-Sheikh PETER POWELL/EPA

There is a revolution taking place in Egyptian football that has ramifications for the whole African continent, with the birth of a new super club that threatens to shake up the established order.

The sale of modest Alassiouty Sport -- a team in the ancient town of Asyut on the banks of the Nile some 400 kilometres south of Cairo -- to Saudi billionaire Turki al-Sheikh has seen the new owner invest over US$33-million on players alone in a little over a week.

Al Sheikh, who is also the chairman of Saudi Arabia's General Sports Authority, essentially making him the country's sports minister, was previously honorary president of Al Ahly, and reportedly a financial backer of the team.

But he resigned in May and after a fallout with the board -- just five months into his tenure -- decided to buy his own club over which he would have full control, and start a new super team to dominate the African continent.

He installed former Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry as the chairman of the club on a reported salary of €2.5-million per year, just as the tactician was about to sign on the dotted line for South African Premier Soccer League giants Kaizer Chiefs.

Al Sheikh has also brought in Brazilian coach Alberto Valentim from Botafogo, a former right-back who played for Udinese and Siena in Italy.

Boosting the technical team further is Argentine former Mexico national team coach Ricardo La Volpe, who took the country to the Last 16 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Added to that, there are four players signed from Brazilian clubs for a total of US$20-million, most notably winger Keno from Palmeiras, as well as two other wide midfielders, Carlos Eduardo (Goiás) and Arthur (Chapecoense), and striker Ribamar (Atlético Paranaense).

Al Sheikh has not confined himself to just raiding the South American country though; he has also taken Egypt internationals Tarek Hamed and Ali Gabr from Zamalek, weakening their challenge, as well as highly-rated Mohamed Magdy from ENPPI and Mohamed Hamdi from Al-Masary.

There have already been 18 new arrivals confirmed in what is a complete overhaul of the squad that has seen many of the players from last season either released or put on the transfer-list.

It is essentially the reshaping of a team from top to bottom, in terms of playing staff, coaching and management, and while there might be a period of adjustment, it could take Pyramids FC not only to the top of Egyptian football immediately, but also African football.

Their benefactor appears to have deeper pockets than most club owners on the continent, and is certainly not afraid to splash the cash.

To put it into perspective, Mamelodi Sundowns owner Patrice Motsepe has a net worth of almost US2-billion and has been generous in funding his club. The team's acquisition of Venezuelan striker Jose Ali Meza for a reported R13-million is a South African record transfer fee paid.

But Brazilian Keno alone cost Pyramids FC almost R140-million, spending that no other team on the continent will be able to match.

Al Sheikh is a key sports figure in the Arab world, holding positions not on in Saudi Arabia's General Sports Authority, but also the Union of Arab Football Associations, Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, and is also a member of the Saudi Royal Court. He was appointed to head the General Sports Authority in September last year, soon after the start of the reign of Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

He has made some quick strides, allowing women to enter football stadiums for the first time ever, agreeing partnership deals with Spain's La Liga and the Italian Serie A, and roping in legendary former German international Oliver Kahn to set up a goalkeeping academy in the country for the national teams.

Quite how or why he is so interested in Egyptian football has never been made clear, though he could see it as a gateway into the African market.

What is clear is that he has changed the game on the continent and Pyramids FC is a name we will likely be hearing much more of in the coming years.