Recently, many of Europe’s traditional top leagues have come under fire. Leagues in France, Italy, and Germany have been called non-competitive, being dominated by PSG, Juventus, and Bayern Munich respectively. In Spain, La Liga is also considered not very competitive, usually just a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Because of this, fans have started to focus on the English Premier League. After all, five different teams have won the league since 2010. The English Premier League has been considered the best league in the world by many, but it has also started to lose its audience. There are many reasons why this is. Some believe that the league isn’t as competitive as it once was, demonstrated by Liverpool, who won the English Premier League by eighteen points last season and are on top of the league this season. It is becoming increasingly more expensive to watch English Premier League games. The top clubs in England have too much power, pushing for rules that benefit them more than smaller clubs, such as the five sub-rule. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has practically gone to war with Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder about whether this rule should exist, with Klopp calling Wilder “selfish” for not accepting this rule. However, the main reason the Premier League is losing popularity is because of referees and VAR. VAR, or video assistant referee, has been accused of “ruining football” by Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford and others.
These are reasons that fans are starting to look elsewhere for other teams and leagues to support. In this article, I am going to tell you why the Egyptian Premier League is the next league that you should watch.
The Egyptian Premier League is one of the wealthiest leagues in African football. Since the turn of the century, eight victors of the CAF (Confederation of African Football) Champions League have been Egyptian. Seven of these victories, including the most recent in 2019/20, were for Egypt’s most successful team, Al Ahly.
Al Ahly is based in the capital of Egypt, Cairo, and are one of the most successful teams in the world. In fact, according to a Globe Soccer vote in 2020, Al Ahly are the most successful team this century. Because of this, Al Ahly have the nickname, “Club of the Century.” Al Ahly have won the Egyptian League an incredible 42 times, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Al Ahly have also won the Egyptian Cup 37 times, the Egyptian Super Cup 11 times, the CAF Champions League nine times, the African Cup Winners’ Cup four times, the CAF Super Cup six times, and the CAF Confederation Cup once. Al Ahly are the Manchester United of Egypt – historically the most successful, richest team. Oh, and Al Ahly are also nicknamed the Red Devils.
Al Ahly also have a rich political history. The team was founded in 1907 and given the name Al Ahly, which means “the national” in Arabic. This was a show of independence, as Egypt were an English colony at the time. The fans of Al Ahly are famous for political importance too – the ultras, passionate fans, had many demonstrations and chants that helped Egypt remove dictator Hosni Mubarak. Oddly enough, Mubarak’s grandson Omar Mubarak plays for the U19 team of Al Ahly.
Al Ahly’s youth academies are famous for producing some of the best Egyptian talent as well. Ramadan Sobhi, Ahmed Hassan, Trezeguet (not the French one) all played for the youth academy. They also attempted to sign a young 20-year-old Egyptian winger named Mohamed Salah, but Salah ended up being sold to Swiss club Basel on his way to becoming Egypt’s leading all-time goal scorer.
Arguably the next most successful team in Egypt as well as Africa, Zamalek, have won the league title 12 times. Zamalek are also located in Cairo, but unlike Al Ahly, Zamalek is actually a neighborhood, whereas Al Ahly are a sporting club located in Cairo. Because of this, the derby between Zamalek and Al Ahly is one of the biggest, most fierce derbies in the world. Last season alone, the Cairo derby occurred four times: twice in the league, once in the Egyptian Super Cup, and once in the CAF Champions League final. Zamalek won two of these games, including the Super Cup, but Al Ahly got the one that really counted: the Champions League final. (During these four matches, three red cards were given. Two of these were in the Champions League final after a brawl broke out in the 96th minute of the game.)
Zamalek have a bright future, mainly thanks to young phenom Mostafa Mohamed. Mohamed was huge in helping Zamalek reach the final against Al Ahly, and will likely record a massive transfer fee as teams in France, Spain, and Turkey are reportedly interested.
Despite being founded just five years ago, Pyramids have finished top three in back-to-back seasons. Currently fifth in the league after four matches this season, Pyramids are coming off a big offseason. It is fair to call Pyramids the biggest spenders in Egypt – they have made the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth biggest purchases of all time in the Egyptian Premier League. Did I mention they were only founded five years ago?
They weren’t exactly smart purchases, either. Only four of the nine players that were bought are still at the club. Still, they have the money to throw around. The team’s first owner was Turki Al-Sheikh, a Saudi advisor who also owns second-tier Spanish team, Almeria. Al Sheikh’s time in Egypt was largely ridiculed, as it was believed that he only formed Pyramids to spite Al Ahly, who had forced his departure as president of the club after just five months due to controversy. Al Sheikh then bought Al Assiouty, changed their name to Pyramids (in English), and made the logo the Sphinx, not pyramids. (That last one is more of a complaint from me more than others. Who does that?) In 2019, Al-Sheikh sold the team to Salem Saeed Al Shamsi, an investor from the United Arab Emirates. Al Shamsi has the funds to turn Pyramids into World Champions, but first Pyramids must topple Al Ahly’s throne.
The Egyptian Premier League has eighteen teams. We’ve already reviewed the top three teams, so that leaves fifteen. These teams haven’t had as much recent success, so here is a quick run-down:
- Ismaily FC are the three-time champs of Egypt and one of only three teams to win the Egyptian Premier League since the turn of the century. They also won the CAF Champions League in 1968. Ismaily are cleverly nicknamed the Brazilians of Egypt because of their jerseys, which resemble the South Americans, and, similar to Brazil, they haven’t done much since 2002 that’s worth mentioning.
- El Masry SC have won one trophy in their one-hundred-year history. This was an Egyptian Cup victory that happened twenty years ago, although the team has had success in local leagues. The logo of El Masry is a green eagle, attributed to the ancient Egyptian god Horus.
- If you want an underdog team to root for, support Wadi Degla. The team are located in Cairo and were founded just eighteen years ago. In 2010 they were promoted to the Egyptian Premier League for the first time ever and they’ve stayed there ever since. And if you can’t buy tickets to the Cairo derby between Zamalek and Al Ahly, substitute Wadi Degla in for either team. They are named after a nearby canyon, and the logo is either a gazelle or an antelope (your guess is as good as mine). What’s not to love?
- Based in the former capital city of Alexandria, Smouha SC are also another team that has recently been promoted for the first time in its history. Despite being founded over 70 years ago, Smouha didn’t gain promotion to the Premier League until the 2010/11 season. Since then, they have actually had some good seasons. In the 2013/14 season, Smouha finished second in the league, right behind Al Ahly. They have also played in the final of the Egyptian Cup twice, losing in heartbreaking fashion both times. Eventually, Smouha will get their trophy.
- Al Mokawloon, also known as Arab Contractors, are currently second to last in the Egyptian Premier League, but history is on their side. Al Mokawloon have won the league once, the Egyptian Cup three times, the Egyptian Super Cup once, and the African Cup Winners Cup once. They also have a youth academy that rivals Al Ahly’s, producing Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah and Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny, among others.
- If you can’t tell, Ittihad Alexandria are located in Alexandria. They are 106 years old and have never won the league, but they have won the Egyptian Cup six times. However, they have a trophy-less run of 44 years and really haven’t looked like one of Egypt’s top teams in years.
- Back to the current capital of Egypt we go, this time with ENPPI SC. (ENPPI stands for Engineering for Petroleum and Process Industries Sporting Club, but that wasn’t as catchy.) There isn’t much information on ENPPI, but they have won the Egyptian Cup twice in their 35-year history.
- Yet another team from Cairo, military club Tala’ea El Gaish SC, have won zero trophies in 24 years. This is their seventeenth season in the top flight, but they are currently last in the league. This comes after they made the final of the Egyptian Cup for the first time this season, losing on penalties to Al Ahly.
- Masr El Makasa earned promotion to the Premier League for the first time in its 84 year history in 2010, and have been consistently inconsistent. In 2013, they narrowly avoided relegation and finished 16th in the league. In 2017, they finished second in the league behind Al Ahly. In the most recent season, they finished 11th. Currently 16th after five games, it will be impossible to predict where they end up.
- For the first time ever, National Bank of Egypt SC will be playing in the Egyptian Premier League. They are almost 70 years old, and you have to think that financially, they have an advantage over the rest of the league. Good luck in your first top-flight season.
- Military club Entag El Harby were promoted for the first time in 2009 and have bounced between the top flight and second tier of Egypt ever since. After seventeen years, Entag are trophy-less but have come close with a semi-final loss in the 2010 Egyptian Cup to, you guessed it, Al Ahly.
- Cleopatra FC, similarly to National Bank of Egypt SC, have an awesome name and are in their first season in the Egyptian Premier League. Just fourteen years old and only promoted from the third tier in 2017, Cleopatra are the slightly less-controversial, not owned by an Austrian energy drink equivalent of the RB Leipzig team that earned four promotions in eight years. They also did not have the funds that Leipzig did, but compared to the rest of Egypt, they were incredibly wealthy. They signed eighteen players at the start of the season, and they might be an interesting team to watch in the future.
- El Gouna FC are the surprise of the early season. Currently, first after five matches, Gouna are first in the league and have yet to concede more than one goal a match. Who knows if the Gounies can become the Leicester City of Egypt.
- Just like the city itself, Aswan SC are a team on the rise. Formed in 1930, Aswan SC have been in Egypt’s top flight for four of the past five seasons, a miraculous achievement for a team that has only been in the top flight eight times.
- Ghazl Mahalla don’t have a whole lot going for them. The team are just recently promoted, but have one of the oldest teams in Egypt. According to Transfermarkt, they have the worst market value of any team in the Egyptian Premier League, and even their history has been harsh. They have lost four Egyptian Cup matches in penalties, and they lost the final of the Egyptian Super Cup on penalties. In 1974, they made the final of the African Cup of Champions Club but lost both legs. However, in 1973 they beat Al Ahly and Zamalek to the league title, something just four other teams have done. In my book, that makes them one of the best teams in Egypt.
There are many reasons why the Egyptian Premier League is one that should be gaining popularity. The Egyptian national team is on the rise, qualifying for the World Cup in 2018 for the first time since 1990 and for just the third time ever. This might happen again, as the Pharaohs have a favorable group draw for qualifiers. More money is being spent, with Pyramids FC and Cleopatra FC both shooting to the top. The Egyptian Premier League is also cheaper to watch than the English Premier League, and, quite frankly, more impressive to support. Why support Chelsea when you can support the National Bank of Egypt?
Image Courtesy of Crosskimo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Comments on “Underrated Leagues: The Egyptian Premier League”
Amazing! Very informative. Really enjoyed. Keep up the good work Charlie!