Mido almost always scored on his debut. The controversial Egyptian forward may have ruffled some feathers wherever he’s been during a career that saw him ply his trade in seven different countries, but none least than opposition defenders in his opening match for a new side.
It was no different when the hitman started life at Tottenham 15 years ago, as he bagged a brace on his first appearance in Spurs’ white shirt against Portsmouth. The goals – the first a towering header and the second a driven shot that rifled into the roof of the net – showcased what the then 21-year-old could do.
But as many discovered previously and afterwards, Mido’s ability to make a positive immediate impression was both a blessing and a curse.
He arrived at White Hart Lane with a playboy reputation, but while his new boss Martin Jol described him as a “sweet boy, terrific lad and a great character”, the former Ajax forward did have his outspoken moments. Although he believes it was that bristling confidence that helped him make such a big impact when he joined new sides.
“The quick adoption I had with all the clubs I played for being because of my personality, I enter every dressing room with great self-confidence – and that helped me a lot,” Mido tells The Set Pieces.
So it proved as Mido, who had initially joined Tottenham on an 18-month loan from Roma, secured a permanent move as he seemed to finally have somewhere he could call home.
After making a name for himself at Ajax, Celta Vigo and Marseille, Mido’s big move to Italy hadn’t gone as well as planned. The goals he’d scored previously dried up and while he assisted three in 14 matches at Roma, he wasn’t being used in a way that benefited his style.
“Technically, I never played like a playmaker at Roma,” Mido recalls. “I just wasn’t lucky enough that I hadn’t scored so many goals. My way at Tottenham was the same as Celta, Marseille and Ajax. Roma was the exception.”
Inevitability then, the explosion of talent he showed upon joining Spurs meant that within a matter in England, Mido expressed his desire not to return to Italy.
“I loved the Premier League, the tempo, the passion and the stadiums,” Mido answers. “I loved the Premier League more than Serie A and because of that I wanted to continue at Tottenham and fought to get back.”
Despite the good vibes he felt in England, Mido wasn’t always given the warmest of welcomes. There were claims he was racially abused by Southampton and West Ham fans in 2005, with Hammers boss Alan Pardew even apologising for his supporters’ behaviour towards the Egyptian.
The abuse didn’t seem to deter Mido, though, as he netted 11 goals in 27 Premier League games to be Tottenham’s second-highest scorer behind Robbie Keane.
But it was in 2006-2007 when the problems appeared. A disappointing season that saw Mido only score once in the league was added to when he labelled former Spurs man Sol Campbell “one of the easiest defenders I’ve played against”.
Thinking he was adding more pressure to the defender before facing him in an upcoming fixture, Mido’s comments angered Jol, with the Dutchman branding him as “irresponsible”.
“I think that the English media made a big issue of my comments,” Mido says now, looking back at the incident. “That a foreigner talked about a legend like Sol Campbell, their legend, I just was planning to put the pressure on him.
“The fans affected him [Campbell] hugely when they booed him, which made him play with some worries and I felt it. But I realise I shouldn’t have said so. I met him and apologised to him, and I said I shouldn’t have said that about him, and he accepted it.”
After a stuttering start to that campaign, Mido looked set to join Manchester City in January 2007, but after scoring against Arsenal that same month, the move fell through.
“Martin Jol blocked my move to Man City after I reached an agreement with Stuart Pearce, their coach back then,” the Egyptian international laments.
“That came after I’d played against Arsenal in Carling Cup and scored a goal. There was an agreement, but Jol told me that he couldn’t let me leave after that performance. After that, I was about to play the main role but got an injury setback that kept me out of playing for a long period.”
Tottenham were ready to sell Mido again later in 2007 when a £6 million fee was agreed with Birmingham City, but the deal fell through because of wages and the length of the contract. That opened up the chance to move to Middlesbrough instead.
“Steve Bruce was Birmingham’s manager back then and he wanted to sign me,” Mido says. “But Boro were UEFA cup finalists and were in the top 10 – maybe six – in the league back then. Also, the contract was very good.
“I wasn’t lucky at the club because they were experiencing a bad time after their peak. I think even until now the club hasn’t recovered from what happened then.
“Yakubu, Mark Viduka and many big names left that summer, and the club changed its plan with a new young coach, Gareth Southgate. With the coach’s lack of experience at that time and with the big names leaving set Middlesbrough on a declining curve. Middlesbrough still hasn’t healed from that period.
“I like Steve Bruce a Iot, but I had the choice between Birmingham and Middlesbrough. I didn’t know before accepting [the move to Middlesbrough] that they would decline like that. The club wasn’t honest with me that they are going to cut their budget at once, set free all the big names and get a young coach, which was the owner’s decision.”
Once more, Mido scored on his Boro debut, this time against Fulham. During his stint at the Riverside, he also scored against Newcastle United – although the match was memorable for than just that reason. He was reportedly subject to racist abuse from a section of supporters, which led to the FA launching an investigation into the incident.
“I don’t think that back then, the FA took racism seriously,” Mido claims. “Back then, the case wasn’t taken asseriously as now. In my opinion, the FA should have taken the case [more] seriously back then. There were some campaigns for facing racism and there was the Red Card campaign in the Premier League, but the FA didn’t take any strong procedures against clubs and fans.
“The only solution to stop racism in the Premier League is to take a strong procedure against the people and the clubs; you should punish both. Why? Because the fans in England always put their club’s interest first, it’s very important for them not to harm their clubs, so the procedure must be stricter.”
After the move to Middlesbrough, Mido’s career started to decline. Despite playing “good football” at Wigan, it was never the same as those first seasons in England with Spurs.
“I made a big mistake leaving Spurs for Middlesbrough,” he considers. “I wasn’t patient enough to play a match and not playing the next one. I should have been more patient, joining Boro wasn’t the right decision to take at that time.
“At Roma, I had an injury in the pelvis that was a very hard and harsh one because it caused pain in the connective muscle and the posterior muscle. That was the beginning of so many injury problems that held meback a lot. I didn’t have big injuries but I had a series of minor ones that held me back in time that I needed to be there playing game after game.
There was a a lot of competition for places at Spurs, with likes of [Dimitar] Berbatov there at the time. He was a colleague and very tough competitor, but what looked like simple things held me back a lot.
“The main reason that I didn’t click right with Middlesbrough is that when I got injured, they signed Afonso Alves, without being patient. He became the number one all of a sudden. They changed their minds quickly once I got injured and wanted to save their season. When Alves came, I got injured and didn’t feel that I get the same attention as I should.
“The time at Tottenham in my first season was one of the best times of my career in England, as well as that short time at Wigan. Steve Bruce [by now Wigan’s manager] decided I wouldn’t continue beyond that time. Wigan also made some backroom decisions that was the start of their decline, which was not to pay big salaries for the players. But at Wigan, I played very good football.”
Mido’s last stop in England was a brief spell with Barnsley in 2013. Soon after, he called time on his playing career. But while his departure didn’t come with as much pomp and ceremony as his arrival, the Egyptian’s personality meant he won’t be forgotten in a hurry.