Among the many lessons that can be learned from Al Ittihad’s daring return to the AFC Champions League after several chaotic years of fighting national relegation, Ahmed Hegazi’s impact is paramount.
Attention in the Middle East is so often focused on attacking recruits – whether analyzing those on the spot or casting envious eyes on the next alluring target. But the influence of the Egyptian center-back throughout 2020/21 is an example for all of the often overlooked art of defending.
A few valuable forwards can inspire a +14 goal difference from a dismal 2019/20, with one game to go. The towering presence of the West Bromwich Albion lender has, with the help of his newly insured teammates, inspired this ascent from the doldrums to third place in the Saudi Professional League.
An injection of leadership, physique and reliability completely transformed the Tigers. He also provided coveted Brazilian coach Fabio Carille with the anchor that was so conspicuously absent during a checkered debut campaign in charge.
One statistic, in particular, of Wyscout stands. Hegazy leads the aerial duels won division in his own penalty area with 50.
Ziyad Al Sahafi was Ittihad’s best with 27 in the last season.
A fundamental source of disruption for the opposition has been cut.
Carille’s troops also kept seven blank sheets in 2020/21. It took them 15 rounds in 2019/20 to register the first of just three shutouts.
Ittihad only managed to add two goals in last season’s 41 total, with one game overdue. Brazilian striker Romarinho with 15 strikes remains by far their deadliest offensive outlet.
The leap forward from last season’s nervous 11e place and this one is comfortable third – potentially second – shows how the solution to a team’s woes can only be found at the top.
Itti’s ambitious and inventive pursuit of elite defensive talent at Hegazy has paid off in style. Their Asian comeback in 2022 after a six-year absence – for various reasons – is a lesson for all in view of the summer transfer market.
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