This story first appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
“He is a great example of hard work and humility. He continued to improve at Basel and has earned the opportunity at Arsenal. I know he will continue to rise.” Bob Bradley, speaking to Egyptian football website KingFut.
His Arsenal career may still be in its nascent stages, but based on the early signs, Mohamed Elneny is well on his way to emphatically proving his former national team coach Bob Bradley’s point.
The hard work Bradley associates Mohamed with became clear for all to see when the club’s newest signing made his debut in an FA Cup win over Burnley at the end of January. “His mobility, his work rate was exceptional,” noted Arsène Wenger after that game. By the end of March, Mohamed had won both plenty of admirers and his first Vitality Player of the Month award - just rewards for a highly-encouraging series of calm and measured displays in the centre of the park.
His combative performance on his full Premier League debut, a fiercely-contested north London derby at White Hart Lane, was especially impressive, as was his first Arsenal goal, a 20-yard effort at Barcelona that was voted as the club’s Goal of the Month. Mohamed has already broken records too, showcasing his vision and distribution when completing 122 passes - the most of any player in a single league match this season - in the 4-0 win over Watford at the start of April.
The Egypt international puts his swift adaption down to the way in which he’s been received by everyone at Arsenal. “I have joined a big family rather than a football club,” he tells us with a smile. Mohamed’s command of the English language is ever-improving too - in fact he recently completed an English course alongside Joel Campbell and Alexis Sanchez - and as he told us at the training ground recently, now that his family have joined him in London, the capital is beginning to feel more and more like home.
Firstly Mohamed, how are you settling into life in London?
I’m delighted to be here in London. It’s a great city, despite the weather conditions that may not be perfect as they change all the time! But overall I’m very comfortable here and happy that my family have joined me now too. I enjoy staying home and spending time with my family. My son loves football so I am teaching him to become a footballer because he’s passionate about the game. If the weather is good, we like to go out for walks and explore the city.
It must have been a hectic few months for you, moving to Arsenal and with a new addition to your family…
Yes, I’m very happy to have a newborn daughter named Fatima. In our culture we believe that when you have a baby girl, good fortune follows in her wake. I think they all bring me luck and I hope to make them happy here in London.
How have you found your first three months at Arsenal?
As I mentioned in my previous interviews, I consider myself very lucky to have joined Arsenal. It’s a massive club, one of the biggest clubs in the world. I feel like I have joined a big family rather than a football club. Everyone has been so welcoming, friendly and helpful ever since my arrival, and this has made my life a lot easier and has helped me adapt quickly to life at this club.
The members of the family complete each other, from Arsène Wenger to the groundstaff. Even the club’s chairman is part of this family. I like to speak and joke with everyone and they all treat me the same. I consider them all as brothers and I am really happy about this here at Arsenal.
Have you managed to learn much English yet?
Everybody around me speaks English and this helps me to improve my language skills. It’s completely different from Switzerland where they tend to speak German most of the time and only few spoke English. I think people around me began to notice that I’m improving day after day.To be honest improving my English helped me a lot to settle in.
What are the most important factors when it comes to integrating into the first-team squad?
Before joining the club, I began to watch a lot of Arsenal games in the Premier League to understand the style of play in order to integrate into the club and the English game. The most important thing for me has been listening to Arsène Wenger’s advice and putting it into action.
The manager has been giving me advice since the first day I arrived at the training ground. He always talks to me about the game and my position and that gave me a lot of confidence. He often instructs me to press the opponent and not give them time on the ball in our half. He’s also helped me to understand the system and playing style he prefers to see us playing.
I used to shoot a lot when I was at Basel but sometimes this doesn’t suit our style here. He taught me to be more of a team player rather than taking chances on my own and shooting from long range. I also paid attention to my team-mates and took their advice. That has helped me to improve my performances already. When you have shot from long range, you’ve had some success.
Talk us through that goal at the Nou Camp…
I knew Alexis likes to cut inside sometimes and when I was behind him, I knew he was going to do the same thing and pass the ball to me. He does that quite often when he’s running down the flanks. So I was expecting it. During the half-time interval, the players reminded me of a clear-cut chance that I had missed in the first half.
They said I should have taken the shot first time, so I had their words in the back of my head while shooting with my first touch, and thankfully it landed in the back of the net. It was definitely one of the most important goals I have scored in my career.
How did you feel after scoring the goal?
It was the first time in my career that I’ve scored a goal and not known whether I should celebrate or not because of the aggregate score. But I was very delighted to score my first goal for the club and at such a prestigious ground like the Nou Camp. It was such a beautiful feeling but I was still disappointed after the final whistle because we failed to go through to the next round of the competition. I think we played well against them over the two legs but it wasn’t meant to be.
In terms of your own game, are there any aspects that you feel will need to improve if you are to be a success in the Premier League?
When I join a new club I tend to think about how to feature regularly in matches, how to always be in the starting line-up and how to become a key midfielder in the team. I don’t want just to adapt to the Premier League, I want to be an important player for Arsenal. When I think like this, it gives me the determination and mentality to motive myself and to succeed at my new club.
When you have this attitude you can achieve anything. It’s more important than thinking about the obstacles that you may encounter. In my opinion this should be every player’s target before joining a new club, because it helps you to gel quickly.
You’ve already struck up a promising partnership with Francis Coquelin in central midfield.Why do you think you work well together?
I have developed a strong partnership with Coquelin on and off the pitch. As I mentioned before, we are like family members. We sit next to each other in the dressing room and tend to joke a lot as well. We cover for each other on the pitch whenever one of us is pressing an opponent. The unique relationship shared by the players off the pitch helps improve the team spirit in general, and is very crucial to performances on the pitch, and that’s what we are trying to reflect.
What’s it like to have the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis and Danny Welbeck playing in front of you?
Being surrounded by players of such a high calibre provides me with a great learning opportunity. The names you have mentioned have got ample experience and have played on football’s biggest stages, such as the World Cup. Some have even won it, therefore I like to watch and learn from everything they do from the time I spend with them on the training ground, when they are warming up and are in the dressing room, even checking the way they communicate with fans on social media! If you want to succeed and become a big name like them, you have to learn from them and pay close attention. There is nothing wrong with that. Mesut told us in last month’s issue that he was impressed with how you performed against Tottenham.
How did you find making your full Premier League debut in a highly-charged north London derby at White Hart Lane?
Personally, I prefer to play in big games. I find them easier than playing against average teams, even though easy fixtures don’t exist in the Premier League. The reason I find them easier is because you are maybe more focused and concentrated on winning the game if you’re playing the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
You are aware of the qualities they possess and still try to edge them. That doesn’t mean I take other games lightly by the way. In Egypt we love football. I love the passion the fans have for the game. I have learnt a lot from the fans in Egypt whom I love and respect, and I am not saying this because I am an Egyptian.
On the subject of the national team, you must be very pleased with how Egypt have performed in recent Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers…
I think we are 99 per cent qualified. Our last game is against Tanzania away and even if we lose the game we can still qualify. Of course we will go there to win the match to bring Egypt back to where it belongs on the African and international stage. People say we can lose 2-0 and still go through but I don’t like that way of thinking.If we are to top African football again we have to win all our games.
"My father as well was always there for me. He is a former player and one of the best players to play for El Mahalla over the years. I used to watch him play and I always admired him as a player. So in terms of football advice, he was great for me. He took on coaching as well and was training me from a young age. I listen to everything he told me, I took his advice and trusted him"
Is reaching the World Cup the ultimate dream for you on the international stage?
Well 100 million Egyptians have the same dream, to qualify for the World Cup again. I would love to be part of a team that reaches the World Cup. The national team has a group of good players and we all want to achieve something badly as a team. In the past Egypt have come close to reaching the World Cup two or three times but it wasn’t meant to be. We either lost in the play-offs or were short on points. God willing we can make this time and make the Egyptian people happy and proud.
At your last home match, some spectators were allowed to watch from the stands. That hasn’t happened for a while, so how was it to have the fans in the stadium supporting you again?
You can’t play football without fans. It doesn’t work. The political situation in Egypt didn’t allow the fans to attend football matches for a while, but I think this is changing now. There are many people who are working hard to bring things back to normal. Let’s discuss your early career.
Your first move was from Al Ahly - the most successful club in Egyptian history - to a smaller side in El Mokawloon. What’s the story behind that?
Allah says “you might hate something that ends up being good for you”. I was a kid when Al Ahly told me they didn’t want me. Everything was dark for me at that stage, it was such a difficult time for me. When I told my dad he was sad too because I didn’t make it. I was 14 years old and had already spent half my life there. Football meant everything for me and all of sudden my dream and my father’s dream was over. Some people around where I used to live wanted me to join my local club, El Mahalla, and that wasn’t what my father or I had planned for the future.
It was a step down. I didn’t give up because I had a dream to play football for a big club. So I decided to join El Mokawloon because young players have a better chance there to play for the first team, which was the advice a friend gave me. I trusted him and I took his advice. My first season at El Mokawloon was difficult because I didn’t play in many games and it was a difficult period for me again, but thankfully I managed to work hard and the following year I became a regular first-team player. The manager at that time, Hamza Gamal, trusted me and he was the one to give me the opportunity to play in the first team.
After that I kept on working hard and made use of my situation, which led to my move to Basel. It was God’s will to move to Basel. I started playing for the national team and Basel had been watching me. Mohammed Salah moved there and they asked him about me and he said good things, not just because he is my friend by the way! They kept a close eye on me playing for El Mokawloon and the national team. I was also part of the Olympic football team in 2012. They made their move for me and thanks to Allah it worked out.
You mentioned your father and we’ve been informed that he was a very good player. How much of an influence has he had on your career?
My father has always stood by my side. He has given me support and advice. But I want to talk about my mother as well – may she rest in peace. My mother was always there for me. She supported me when I was still at Al Ahly’s academy. It wasn’t easy to commit to training three days a week because of the distance I had to travel. I come from a simple family, money was an issue at times but my mum always managed to support me and give me what I wanted to pursue my dream.
My father as well was always there for me. He is a former player and one of the best players to play for El Mahalla over the years. I used to watch him play and I always admired him as a player. So in terms of football advice, he was great for me. He took on coaching as well and was training me from a young age. I listen to everything he told me, I took his advice and trusted him. Until now I still speak to him after some games and see what he has to say. I play for Arsenal now but that doesn’t mean I don’t need him anymore. May Allah keep him safe and healthy for me.
Finally Mohamed, going back to the present, how would you analyse how the club have fared during your first half season in London?
We know football and the Premier League in general can be very unpredictable. We saw what happened in the Liverpool v Dortmund match - everything can change very quickly. If it’s not meant to be this season, we need to work hard and fight to win the title next year. Personally I am here to help Arsenal win trophies. We want to make the fans happy and bring back the golden times.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.