Al Ittihad’s inventive Ahmed Hegazy deal is an example for everyone – in Saudi Arabia and beyond

Of the many lessons that can be learned from the cherished return of two-time winner Al Ittihad to the AFC Champions League after several chaotic years battling national relegation, the influence of Ahmed Hegazi is paramount.

Attention in the Middle East is so often focused on attacking recruits – be it analyzing those on the ground or casting envious eyes on the next seductive target. However, the influence of the Egyptian center-back in 2020/21 is an example of the often neglected art of defense.

Few strikers can score a goal difference of +14 compared to the sad 2019/20 year with one game left. The overwhelming presence of the West Bromwich Albion borrower, with the help of his newly insured teammates, inspired this climb from the doldrums to third place in the Saudi Professional League.

An injection of leadership, physicality and reliability has fundamentally changed the Tiger. It also gave the coveted Brazilian coach Fabio Carille the anchor point, so obviously missing from a difficult debut campaign.

A statistic from Wyscout stands out. Hegazy leads the division of aerial duels, which he won when he was 50 in his own penalty area.

Ziyad Al Sahafi was the best Ittihad at 27 in his last term.

A fundamental source of disturbance for the opposition was shut down.

Furthermore, Carille’s troops have played seven clean sheets in 2020/21. In 2019/20 it took them 15 rounds to record the first of just three shutouts.


Ittihad have only managed to add two goals to last season’s 41 record, with a deficit. Brazilian striker Romarinho is by far the deadliest attacker with 15 goals.

The quantum leap in output from nervousness last season 11th Place, and that convenient third – possibly second – shows how the solution to a team’s problems can only be found above.

Itti’s ambitious and inventive pursuit of elite defensive talent at Hegazy has paid off in style. Her Asian comeback in 2022 after six years – for various reasons – is a lesson for anyone ahead of the summer transfer market.

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