I meet Omar the morning after a goalless Derby (Flora-Levadia on 20th of May). The weather is exactly as it was the evening before at ‘A.LeCoq Arena’, chilly and rainy when referee Kristo Tohver whistled the end of the challenge in front of 1,700 people attending. It seems like the summer is over already.
Notwithstanding we are both Southerners, we beat stereotypes and sit outside. We have coats anyway and as Estonians say: ‘there’s no bad weather as such, just bad clothing’
The heat of the moment is gone and I ask Omar to rewind the tape of his performance against the city rivals: ‘I am quite satisfied’ admits Omar ‘we shall also take into consideration that we have already played 5 games this month (May –edit). The team performance was quite good and I think mine too’.
We continued focusing on the current season with Omar: his position on the field and the upcoming derby with Nõmme Kalju (tomorrow, 23rd of May, in Kadriorg).
Later on, we talked about himsel and his career in Egypt. We chatted about how he came to Estonia and we tried to expose certain stories about this circumstance. We discovered Omar is a big fan of 'Rumori' and it helps his family following what is going on here. 'I think you guys are doing a great great job and you are being professional. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk.'
POSITION ON THE FIELD AND SCORE CAPABILITY, FROM 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1?
I have seen you playing often. If I told you that you could probably score more goals, what would you answer?
I would answer that…I would like to score more goals! (laughs). The fact that I don’t score and meet people’s expectations on this, it depends upon several factors. First of all, I am getting acquainted with football here. Additionally, it depends also upon the way we (Levadia) play as I am not this classical type of winger (Omar usually plays as left flanker on 4-4-2 – edit). I like to move to the center. I am working on it together with the coach, he’s giving me instructions and hopefully with the time it will improve.
Marko Kristal is a 4-4-2 strong believer, do you think you would be even sharper in a 4-2-3-1?
Yes, I would be closer to the effective area compared to being on the flank.
Have you ever tried in training 4-2-3-1 with you in the trequartista position? Does it work?
We did try and I actually must say I find it more interesting for me. Marko himself is convinced that I would perform better in this position. However, at the moment, we’re depending more on long balls and we need to have two strikers in the box all the time, holding the ball and allowing midfielders to come up. Right now we play this way and we both know that the strikers line has got thin (Buinickj left the club, Rättel got injured – edit) so maybe at a certain point we might play with one striker and I can play behind him. If something happens, we need to be ready. We have had also problems in defence (following Jahhimovitś long suspension – edit), everything broke loose at the same time. We all need to stick and work together and move forward. We can either change formation or club will find replacements.
Do you think the change of formation is likely to happen soon considering the European campaign will soon come?
The positive thing is that now we will have a two-week break after the Kadriorg game (derby against Kalju on the 23rd of May – edit) and maybe it will be a good chance to try different formations. With the transfer window approaching, we can have a back-up via new signings.
FROM DERBY TO DERBY: LEVADIA-KALJU ON FRIDAY
Levadia are 6 points far from Kalju.
Even though the season is not even at half stage, it is a good advantage for the rivals. Do you think you can beat them on Friday and kind of re-open the title race?
I believe we can win. This is our goal in every game we face. However, I think it’s a bit early to call Kalju candidates for the title, there are more than 20 games to be played. They are strong candidates, however they must keep in mind that Levadia are the defending Champions. We didn’t change much apart from few players leaving. Levadia are still a solid team, they cannot think that we are out of the race. Everyone at Levadia is working in the same direction to fill the gap.
Have Kalju a weak point that Levadia can exploit on Friday?
I wouldn’t see a weak point. Rather, they have a comfort zone and you need to take them outside of this zone.
Which one is their comfort zone?
Kalju have never gone a goal down during a game. They have always scored first when they did.
So Levadia should score first on Friday?
Yes, that’s one thing. The other thing is that when scoring first, it’s kind of hard to equalize as both teams are very solid. Take Flora for instance: they equalized in the last 5 minutes (Kalju-Flora 1-1 on Matchday 4 - edit), it clearly shows it’s not easy to have a comeback in these direct clashes. Therefore, if we open the score, we have certainly an advantage.
Let’s say you would have the chance to ground one Kalju player for Friday’s game, who would you ground?
Tarmo (Neemelo). He is a key-player for Kalju. He’s doing basically everything up there in the strikers’ line. He’s a sniper. Maybe the number of goals is not as big as others in the team. However, without him, others scoring power is affected.
Well, talking about others who score goals: wouldn’t you take Toshi Wakui away from them for Friday (8 goals this season already)?
He is indeed a good player, but I would still take Neemelo away from them as it would affect all the others.
WHO IS THE FOOTBALLER OMAR
From your attitude on the pitch, I understood you always want to be in the middle of the action. How do you react when the coach tells you ‘Omar, today you start from the bench’? Do you accept the decision?
Absolutely, I know my role in this business. I am just a player. I cannot be a player and a coach at the same time. It doesn’t matter how long you play, one minute or 90 minutes, all that matters is that you play good. If you always play good, this is the solution to be given a start. You need to do that also when the coach gives you five minutes only.
Let’s talk a bit about yourself.
You are the first Eygptian footballer in Estonian top-flight.
Tell us, how did Levadia discover you and where the idea of offering you a contract came from?
Well, there’ve been misunderstandings about this story. I am actually glad ‘Rumori’ is giving me a chance to say how things really went. Football has been affected by what has happened in my country. I had to find something to replace what I had there. Since I have part of my family here (his wife is Estonian – edit), I came to Estonia and started to look for something. And it actually did not take long. I arrived mid-December and two weeks later I was introduced to an agent who told me that he had contacts here. The first ones were Levadia. I met Marko and the Sport Director, we chatted for ten minutes and they asked me the usual simple questions: position on the field, my past career etc. and then they invited me to train with them to see how it goes.
So it was a normal process as it usually happens when having a player on trial?
Absolutely. Probably being an Egyptian in Estonia is not a common thing so they put a bit of spice on this story to make it more interesting.
And for a long time you have been labelled ‘The Lasnamäe Pharaoh’ however, you don’t live there. How this legend was born?
I have no clue who started it. I don’t live in Lasnamäe, I don’t have properties there, I don’t know anyone in Lasnamäe, maybe some relatives live there. I don’t know why specifically Lasnamäe! They didn’t discover me from a banner saying ‘Hey! I can play football!’ (laughs). Hopefully, I managed to show on the pitch that I don’t come from nowhere and I am not new to this game. It is so strange at this point of my life (Omar is 28 years old – edit) that people are doubting that I am a professional footballer. I was hired by the Champions, we’re going to Europe soon, I did not join a lower league club. You cannot just go around and pretend to be a professional footballer at this level.
What did you know about Estonian football before moving here?
I’d be lying if I were to say I knew much (smiles). When I made the decision to come here, I started searching about football here and I realized is quite a normal situation. Your website was one of the first to spark my interest and to follow, as I understand the language…Estonian websites, I enjoy the pictures (smiles). Living here now, it helps knowing more. Last season I watched some national team games and they were really doing good. The player who impressed me most is, needless to say, Kostantin Vassiljev. He plays almost same position, same style as I do (and with Magnus Pehrsson he shall get the trequartista role behind the lone striker in the 4-2-3-1 – edit). Watching players who play in same position as mine helps evaluating what they are doing, that is why they catch my eye. I was very impressed by his performance against Holland. I must say it was the first time I noticed him.
Omar knows about the upcoming game against Gibraltar (Monday the 26th) that will mark Oper’s farewell to football and maybe he will attend for the first time as a spectator in A.LeCoq Arena: ‘it will depend on the weather! (smiles)’
Can you briefly describe you career in Egypt.
The fooball system in my home country is quite different compared to here. If you take Esiliiga B in Estonia as an example. In Egypt, on this tier (third – edit) we have 72 teams divided into several groups. Egypt is a big country of course, with a big population and this tier spans all over the nation. The competition there is really high. Before the political turbulence, a lot of money was poured on football. Lot of teams were developing. If you watched the level, you would be impressed. The problem is that it’s very hard to have reliable information on the internet. Here you can find all the information about 4th tier players on the Estonian FA website. If you take second tier in Egypt, there’s no info as such. People don’t take precise and reliable info as a value in Africa, so no one is keen in developing.
I played for some really competitive teams. I was in first division in Qatar and I managed to reach the play-offs for Egyptian Premier League. Obviously there are always gaps between tiers in any country, however some teams I have played in were just few steps away from being in the top-clubs group.
Before joining Levadia, did you have a break in your playing career?
The last official game I played in Egypt, it was in July 2013. Then I had a 5-6 month pause from competitive games. However, I am not a youngster anymore and I know what to do to stay fit when I have a break. This is important because at any point you might be asked to show yourself, so you need to be ready any time and be focused as a professional. I cannot just put on 10 kgs! (laughs). This is especially important when you move in another country and no one knows anything about you and cannot collect information easily as I have explained. You show yourself on the pitch and this is what they know about you.
Describe yourself in five adjectives.
He takes a bit of time to think before finding all the five suitable adjectives to describe his personality and explain why: ‘evaluating oneself it’s hard’ we both agree ‘…if others evaluate me, some says I am calm, some stereotype me as hot-blooded. If you see me cold-blooded on the pitch instead, I can tell you I learnt this by the time. When I was younger, I was foolish. In thirteen games this season I didn’t get any card. Hopefully I won’t and I can continue in the same fashion. When I was young I used to collect many due to anger bursts, aggressive reactions etc. But I have learnt, everyone learns with the time. Now I can turn to the referee and disagree but I don’t do it in an offensive way. I talk to refs, I listen to what they say, either I agree or not.’ Omar in the end defines himself as ‘calm, but not so much’.
‘I am patient’
In football I am, I don’t think in personal life (laughs).
Calm and patient, we need other 3…
Stubborn…stubbornness helps in football if you can transform it in determination. This is something I learnt. Do you need all good adjectives? (we both laughs)
Well, negative ones are not excluded: 5, whichever type.
Two left? I’d say…aware and stupid!
How can they both be in the same list?!
It’s like weather in Estonia…can be hot and cold during the same day (we both laughs)…I try to be aware in all the sides of my life. To make an example, I try to be manager and employee at the same time. I try to work but at the same time trying to read and anticipate situations. I do that also in football. I observe, I don't just keep playing until the ref whistles the end. I like to be aware of what is going around.
Stupid because sometimes I overuse myself. I exploit something good I have until I look bad. This is my stupidity (laughs).
HOME AND AWAY, FOOTBALL LIFE BETWEEN TURBULENT (?) EGYPT AND QUIET ESTONIA
Have you been thinking about returning to Egypt if your performance here will rise interest from your home country?
It will depend on the situation there. Right now, the league for now is in a steady status even though there is no audience. But you never know there will some events again that would make the competition stop for a while or to be postponed. This was the reason why I left. If something happens again, football is not a priority and will be put aside. In general, I would not exclude this option: this is my home country and I know I want to end up there.
And talking about Egypt. We get the information that media give us. How is the situation there?
(Smiles) Don’t misunderstand this smile on my face. You know media better than I do. This is a bit like it went with my story. It’s not interesting if I tell you that people wake up in the morning, have breakfast, go to work and go back home at 5pm. However, if somebody throws a bomb, or an accident happens or whichever disruptive situation happens there, this will make the news. Normal life is not news. If the situation gets more stable in Egypt, it will disappear from news. Accidents and harmful stuff, they travel easier and faster. I think right now the situation is more stable and things are going towards the right direction. It will take some time just like in any other country.
What if there would be an opportunity to move elsewhere instead?
I don’t exclude any option in my career. If there will be a chance, I will weigh all the options and choose. Destination doesn’t make too much difference for me. This is my job. I pursue my ambition, I will go wherever it’s needed. I will do what is best for me. If I have had a different vision about this, I wouldn’t be in Estonia right now.
ESTONIA VS. EGYPT
There are obviously many differences. We look at the football only: what is the main difference?
As Estonia belongs to Europe, they are following certain standards here. In Egypt, instead you have fight against all odds, you need to create your own success. Here you’re more likely to follow the standards and the system otherwise you cannot survive. In Egypt, we have many many talents, however most of them get lost because of not enough facilities, capabilities, people don’t get the good chance. If we take a look at Egypt FIFA ranking and titles won…except World Cup (laughs) …the country has made its own name for football.
We end up talking about all the many talents coming from Northern Africa who have made it to European football and wrote their name in the continental football. Obviously, the big example for Omar is Zinedine Zidane, a child of Algerian immigrants who helped France win a European Cup and a FIFA World Cup. More recently, the Italian national team has featured the likes of El-Shaarawy, offspring of Egyptian immigrants who made to AC Milan. Finishing with the young talent of Moroccan descent, Mastour, who has hit the headlines for his debut at 15-year-old of age in Serie A. I ask Omar whether maybe one day we will have a small El-Hussieny in the Estonian youth team and he said that he doesn’t exclude any option.
FOOTBALL LIFE IN ESTONIA, LIKES AND DISLIKES
One thing that you like of football here and one that you don’t.
I start with what I don’t like. Basically it’s about the media. Media sometimes and some people working in it…I’d like to mention names, but I won’t…they are trying to do things like in other big countries, but they are not using the same tools. For example. They want to go deep into interesting details, in order to rise people’s interest, but they actually don’t go deep. They just take from the surface something completely irrelevant that has nothing to do with the reality.
Can you give us a good example of what you are describing?
Commentators. I usually listen back to their comments and when they add their personal opinion, I find it completely irrelevant, not connected to football. They might talk like they know about football, but, I am sorry to say, they fail. Obviously not all of them, but it happens often.
Omar understands Estonian language. He confesses he is able to understand the change of tones and when the understanding gets complicated, he resort to translation from someone to understand what exactly was said during the comment.
What I like in Estonia is that everyone gets a chance. As I said earlier, instead many talents are wasted in my home country. Not everyone manages to get a chance. It’s hard to fight against circumstances and kick off your career. Everyone has a chance to enjoy life when comes to sports. Average Egyptian player would succeed here because he is used to tougher conditions. I have few names in my mind I would happily suggest to Levadia to bring here.
What was, if there were any, the hardest moment since you play here?
Accepting to lose to Paide (laughs). If I had a nightmare, it wouldn’t be as frightening as this one. You are the Champions and you kick off the season losing to a lower-table side…people of course like surprises, and this hit the headlines like if we would have lost to Santos on Sunday (Estonian Cup final against third tier club –edit). Paide was a bucket of ice spilt on our heads.
I made him notice it was a player with Arabic origin to score the winning goal on Matchday 1. However, Omar answered this did not make so much of a difference for him of course. Not even knowing that Said is gone now and will not harm Levadia any longer.
You mentioned Neemelo as key-man for Kalju. Let’s look broadly at all the 10 teams, going, from fully amateur sides as Kalev, via semi-pro to fully professional clubs as Levadia, Kalju, Flora. Is there one or several players that have impressed you most?
On the flank, there are many good ones and everybody is working hard to reach a good level. If we come to names, I mention players whose style of play I like most and admire. These players are close to my main feature of playmaking role. Taking the four big teams, Daniil Ratnikov in Sillamäe, Zakaria Beglarishvili in Flora.
Are you jealous they can play in your ideal role?
Oh no, I am not envious by nature (smiles)…I think if they would be deployed along the touchline, they would also do a good job. Anybody in any team must work hard I every part of the field. Of course, if you play in the position where you are more comfortable, you can give more. I would not say they are lucky to play in that position, but they are doing a good job.
Looking at international football, what is or has been your role-model? And in Egypt?
I wouldn’t say there is one I am trying to copy, there are few I am trying to learn. Obviously we talk about very popular icons of football: Zidane, younger Del Piero, Riquelme, Iniesta. They are my favourites. In Egypt I’d pick Aboutreika. He is an icon in Egypt. Mohamed is an icon for everything he does, on and off the pitch. He is the man…when you need a man! (laughs)
Mohamed Aboutreika, African Champion with the national team in 2006 and 2008, 5 times in a row the best Egyptian footballer from 2004 till 2008. Aboutreika was second to Emmanuel Adebayor in the African Footballer of The Year 2008 award. This prize is acknowledged to any African footballer, instead, the African Best Player of the Year is given only to Africa-based: Aboutreika won it four times (2006, 2008, 2012, 2013).
Omar devours football whenever he can following all the major leagues in Europe. He doesn’t have a specific club he supports. Considering I am from Italy, he confesses that he has a soft spot for Juventus. He has been following the Torino club even when they were relegated to Serie B following the ‘Calciopoli’ scandal:
‘Conte is a genius' states Omar without shadow of doubt 'He changed the concept of modern football’ says Omar enthusiastically about the Juventus skipper ‘he added his touch rather than going blindfolded with the mainstream. Of course he was less successful in Europe. However I am confident this time will come for him. In England I like Liverpool, however City have been playing great football. In Spain the usual ones: Barcelona, Real Madrid…however, great to see another team like Atletico winning titles’
Which are your favourite spots? What do you like to do in the city during your free time?
Well, if we think about Winter, there are not so many spots you would like to stay for long (smiles). Now it’s getting warmer…it’s a very nice city, calm, green, completely different from what I am used to. No noise, no turbulence. I like it here, it helps you staying focused. I like Strömmi Rand (Strömmi beach) as it’s close to my home. It’s nice, you can go taking a walk, jogging, biking.
What do you do in your free time when you are not training?
I mainly spend my time together with my family. Family it’s all I have here. I cannot mention much more. Sometimes I might meet some teammates from Levadia (he said Teever and Vukobratovic are the players he has bonded most with so far – edit). One friend of mine visited me a while ago, it was good to have this home feeling after some time. Maybe more friends will come during Summer as I don’t think I will leave Estonia. Reaching Egypt is a bit complicated and I don’t want to spend too much time in airports, we will stay here for ‘Jaanipäev’ (Midsummer Day). My wife has spoken to me about this holida and she is waiting a lot. Maybe we will go out of town, or maybe even out of Estonia as we don’t have so much chance to do something together due to my training schedule. I have to say I lost a bet with her as I told her these trees (indicates the trees around) were dry two weeks ago and there was no way they were going to get green (smiles). Weather changes in a blink of a night here. You never know.
Have you visited elsewhere in the country? What did you like most?
Not really, but being around with the club for the away games, I got a good picture. Calm and cosy place. I have heard some stories about Pärnu (the Estonian Sharm El-Sheikh I offers, Omar smiles amused – edit) and I want to go this Summer.