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Goalkeeper Gabaski, other Egyptians catching attention of Saudi teams after recent club, international success in Africa

RIYADH: Senegal’s Edouard Mendy may have won the Golden Gloves after his country’s victory in the recent Africa Cup of Nations, but the best goalkeeper of the tournament award would surely have gone to Mohamed Abou Gabal had Egypt emerged as champions in the final.

The Zamalek goalkeeper, better known as Gabaski, replaced the injured Mohamed El-Shenawy during the second-round clash with Ivory Coast and quickly became feted around the world due to a string of heroic performances.

And just as the tournament’s top scorer Vincent Aboubakar plays his club football for Al-Nassr, it could be that the goalkeeper will be joining the striker at the Saudi club later this year.

At the moment, Gabaski is one of the most recognizable goalkeepers outside Europe which is quite a statement as he had played just three games for his country at the start of 2022. By early February, he had made four more appearances.

In that first Ivory Coast clash, he made two fantastic penalty saves to win the shootout for Egypt. In the quarterfinal, he picked up an injury against Morocco but helped the team to a 2-1 win and then in the semifinal, he cemented his burgeoning international reputation with another fine performance and a save in a penalty shootout win over the hosts Cameroon.

The final against Senegal may have ended in a penalty shootout defeat but it was telling that Gabaski was named man of the match.

The semifinal may not be the last time he crosses swords with Aboubakar. Al-Nassr are nine-time Saudi champions and are on the trail of the 33-year-old, whose contract with the Cairo giants comes to an end this summer.

It is easy to see why the transfer could be attractive for both parties. Al-Nassr would get a major star of the Arab world and a top shot stopper and for Gabaski, it may be a last chance, given he is in the latter stages of his career even with the longevity that goalkeepers enjoy, to have a lucrative move overseas.

And while there is nothing wrong with Egypt’s domestic competition, there is also the prospect of playing in a new league that is improving all the time.

For a goalkeeper, there is a striking array of attacking talent to deal with. As well as Aboubakar, there are the likes of Odion Ighalo, Talisca, Moussa Marega, Pity Martinez, Omar Al-Somah, Matheus Pereira, Igor Coronado, Abderrazak Hamdallah, Emilio Zelaya and many others. That is not to mention some of the top domestic talents too. There is also a good mix of foreign and domestic goalkeepers in the league, led by Al-Ittihad’s Brazilian Marcelo Grohe.

But while a deal may work for both Al-Nassr and Gabaski, it is not what Zamalek want. If it happens, then there could be controversy.

Mortada Mansour, president of Zamalek, recently warned off Saudi Arabian clubs from his best players. The 69-year-old said that as soon as one of the team’s players did well, then clubs from the West Asian nation were soon circling and he asked that Egyptian clubs should be left alone by those that can afford talent from anywhere in the world.

Mansour’s complaints are understandable. At the start of the year, Zamalek lost winger Mostafa Fathi to Al-Taawoun, not one of the giants of the Saudi scene. The winger’s three goals in three games so far have helped the Buraidah team ease relegation worries a little but he has been missed back in Cairo.

In recent weeks, Zamalek have been contacted by clubs from Saudi Arabia about more of their best players, and not just Gabaski.

International defensive midfielder Tarek Hamed has been a mainstay of the club for eight years and has caught the eye. The exploits of Ahmed Hegazi at Al-Ittihad have certainly helped improve the reputation of Egyptian defenders in the region. Mahmoud Hamdy has not missed a minute in the league for Zamalek this season and fellow center-back Mahmoud Alaa is another reliable performer. All are on the shopping lists of clubs from Riyadh, Jeddah, and elsewhere.

This may grate on the nerves of a club such as Zamalek, a giant with 13 Egyptian Premier League titles and no less than five African Champions League wins. The White Knights are African titans and some of the teams being linked with their players do not have the same glittering trophy cabinets. When Egyptian players are linked with clubs from the big European leagues, the national pride is evident, but losing top talent to regional rivals is a different thing altogether.

Zamalek’s frustrations may be understandable, but it is unlikely that Mansour’s comments will have much effect. There are other names being mentioned as Egyptian players are seen as reliable, professional, low-maintenance, and good value for money.

The more players that perform well, the more interest there will be, though perhaps there is the consolation that Egyptian defensive midfielders, defenders, and goalkeepers such as Gabaski, will get plenty of challenges given the attacking talent in the Saudi Professional League.

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