“My life is about football, when you take that away, it’s tough."
Mohamed Elneny has just endured the most demanding 10-month spell of his career, but the Egypt international believes he has come back stronger – in all aspects – after returning from the first long-term injury of his career.
Our No. 25 had just scored the opening goal in our 3-0 FA Cup win over Oxford at the start of January, when in his next training session he picked up an ACL injury that ruled him out of action for nine months.
He made the most of that time out though, and having signed a new contract with the club shortly afterwards, he was able to focus all his efforts on his recovery. He also had time to begin his coaching qualifications, and setup Elneny FC.
The hard work finally paid off at the end of September, when he came on during our 1-0 defeat of Brentford in the Carabao Cup. He’s also made a successful return to the Egypt national team, with the Africa Cup of Nations scheduled for the start of 2024.
We sat down with Mo to discuss his highs and lows of the past year, and you can watch the full interview now by clicking play above. Or you can read a full transcript below.
On the last year:
It was tough for me. It’s the first time I’ve had this experience with a long injury. Usually I don’t get so many injuries but last year I had two big injuries. But honestly, it’s helped me a lot to make me stronger. I use the gym more than I did before. It’s opened up new things in my life as well, improving my life skills. I love football so much and I missed it all the time, like when I went to the stadium to support my team-mates. To be in the stadium was tough. But I love to be around them and I went to support them in every game. It was tough.
On being part of the group:
Yes, 100 per cent. It was important for me because I wanted to give everyone positive energy. They know I have this in myself and that I can make everyone else feel positive. I always tried to talk to the players when they arrived before the game, to give them motivation and make them feel good before the game. When we win, I win as well. I really love to be around the boys, to help them, to feel like a part of this team.
On what happened with his ACL injury:
After Oxford we had training ahead of the Tottenham game. One day before the game. We were preparing for the game. At the end of the session, I had the ball and was running with it. I looked up, I didn’t see anyone so decided to take another touch. Eddie was behind me - he didn’t touch me but took the ball in front of me and I kicked his leg. My balance was on my body, my knee actually. After training, I went inside with the doctor. There was no swelling or anything. They sent me for a scan anyway and I was told I’d hear from them within 45 minutes. It got to two hours, three hours after and I was feeling like I couldn’t stay at home anymore. I was just waiting for the result. I could feel something but I was so scared about the ACL because the ACL takes nine months or longer. I was just coming back from a hamstring injury at the time. I was feeling I don’t want this! I had [such a good] feeling from the Oxford game - I scored and the fans were singing my song. I was really happy and felt in top form. In the night I said I needed to leave the house. I left my house, I wanted to go for a walk around the streets, I couldn’t handle myself anymore. But I felt a lot of pain. I got a message from the doctor saying “just wait Mo, the result will come up”. But I knew, because normally when you do a scan, within 45 minutes you know. I was panicking. I couldn’t stay at home. I walked outside and saw a car behind me. I thought “who is that?” and saw Dr Gary, who had literally just arrived. He hugged me, and I looked at him and said “ACL?” He said it was. I couldn’t handle myself afterwards. It was one of the hardest times for me. It was really hard. I’d just come back from injury, I was fighting so much to come back into the team and play. Finally I was playing, scoring, feeling good - and then this happened. He said it was the ACL, and that they are going to be with me.
On how long that pain lasted:
For me, it took me a while because I love football so much and the fact is you’re not going to play the season anymore and it’s hard. It’s really hard. It was still like four months to finish the season and this was hard for me. For me all my life is about football, so you take football from me, it’s tough. It took me a while to adjust to get back. I said myself ‘OK I want to play in this season’ and there was no chance. I have to put myself one goal just to fight for because otherwise I won’t be back soon. I said I want to play the last game. If we were going to win the Premier League, we were really close to winning, I wanted to play the last game, just maybe at the end two minutes to be with the team. I was fighting for this, that’s why I got myself back to be helping the team to reach this goal to win the Premier League and to play the last game in the season for my team.
On how important his new contract was:
This was maybe one of my best days in my life. I promise you, because I love this club and everyone knows I love this club, but when you get the love back from the club. It was something like my contract was going to finish last year and with an ACL your career is in risk because you’re going to be not playing and at the end of the year you’re going to have no contract anymore and no-one is going to take you because it’s a risk for them as well. They don’t know if you come back fit or how you come back. The next day after, they called me in the office and said ‘Mo, we want to speak to you.’ I didn’t know what they were talking about and then I went in and everyone was there: Mikel, Edu, Tim. The first thing they said was that they spoke with the owner and they are happy to give me a one-year contract. I was really emotional because when you get the love from the people you love, it’s special. And this club for me, it means a lot for me. It was one of the best days of my life because I got the love back from them. They feel how much I love this club and the way they talk to me and say good things about me makes me really love this club even more.
On how it motivated his recovery:
You don’t need to think anymore because now it’s to recover and come back as soon as possible to play with the team, because this club helps you and let you not think about the injury anymore, just to come back as soon as possible.
On taking his coaching qualifications:
I did finish my B license last year and this time I am doing my A license now.
On setting up a soccer school:
Yes, this is the main thing that happened during the injury because when I was injured I was thinking I have to do something. I can’t just stay at home doing nothing. I was thinking about how to get something from this time. If I don’t play, I need to do something to help my life. I was thinking about opening a business or an academy to help the new generation and my son as well because he’s this age as well. I talked to my friend and said I want to do something and he said ‘why not? You’re still playing in the Premier League and if you open an academy, people come to you and they want you to coach them because you are experienced.’ I said yes, why not? I started to talk to my friends and my partner as well and then we opened an academy first. That was doing good and then I was thinking I needed to open a club. For me that would be really good to help the academy to grow. Then when you finish the academy you have the first team as well. Now we’re doing trials for the first team and we’re going to have a squad for the first team with hopefully 25 elite players to join the league next season. I’m going to coach for one year and play Championship clubs, maybe League One or League Two friendly games, and then we’ll see if they are good. It’s something really exciting for me.
On what the club is called:
It’s Elneny FC for now, but I’m going to change it for sure. I wanted to call it Elneny FC because I wanted the people to know, the people who wanted to come to my club. Because I was thinking ‘how can I attract people?’ Maybe through my name because I play for Arsenal and in the Premier League and if the team had a different name, probably I would not get the same attention. But maybe before we join the league of course we’ll change the name.
On whether it’s his first step into management:
Yes, I want to be a coach actually! I’m going to be the owner not the coach! But I have good coaches with me as well, and we’re going to see.
On his comeback against Brentford:
For me it was really good, because I was waiting for this moment for nine months. And then Mikel spoke to me the day before the game, he said ‘Mo I want to use you in this game, you have to be prepared.’ I said ‘yeah, I’m ready and have been waiting for this opportunity to come’. I had been working so hard for this one, and then when I came on, I saw Mikel, the staff and players, the fans – everyone was happy for me to come back. Of course when you feel people around love you, you feel special. When I came on, I felt like I was back to the life.
On playing at the Emirates again:
Yes, in this moment, it means a lot. You come back from nine months, and I know people who have come back from an ACL, they don’t feel the same. But for me to come back and have Mikel’s trust now to put me in the team. To join the team again is something incredible. The way I work in the gym, the time, long time, the recuperation, but actually it helped me so much. Yeah, the injuries are a bad thing, but they help you. They help you to understand your body, to open new things in your life and to be patient. To be patient is a hard thing to learn, it’s a really hard thing. To be patient every week with what you are doing. Keep patient, keep patient, and you know what you are going to have at the end. It’s really, really good.
On making his Egypt return:
Yeah, I need to really thank the medical team here at Arsenal, how they helped me and how they made me strong to come back. When I went back to the national team I need to thank the coach there, because he trust me as well. After nine months he put me back in the national team, and trusted me to start the game before I had started a game for Arsenal. So he trusted me and put me in the first XI in the first game. Then in the second game - we played two games in the (United Arab) Emirates - I played the two games. That was something really, really good. I feel good, the people trust you. They say ‘OK Mo, you come back from nine months injury, but we trust you to play.’ The national team is something really, really big. We have millions of people in Egypt who want to be in the national team, but the coach trusts you to come back and to play. It gives you motivation, it gives you a feeling inside that you need to give everything for this man because he really trusts you. So yeah, I feel good.
On playing against Thomas Partey:
Yes we did, we did speak about it. The Ghana team is a strong team in Africa of course, the whole time. They are always our ‘enemy’ as well. They have a good team for sure, and Thomas is part of that. Thomas can make a big difference for them as well. We’ve talked to each other and seen how much it means for us, the Africa Cup of Nations. For us it means a lot, specifically for Egypt, because we are the country who have won it most often. We need to keep it that way.
On whether Egypt need to win again soon:
Yes! For sure, and for this generation we have now. The old generation won three in a row, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Our generation went to the World Cup, but they didn’t. They won just the Africa Cup of Nations, but us, we’ve missed this one. We’ve missed winning the Africa Cup of Nations to be best generation in history. Because we went to the World Cup, unfortunately we reached the final (of the Africa Cup of Nations) two times, and we lost two times. This is something really difficult for us and this generation, and this is motivation as well. This time for us, everyone wants to win the Africa Cup of Nations. The way we work, and the way we are talking about it. Everyone wants to win and it’s something we have to. We are going to fight for it and we’re going to see.
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