Zamalek’s dreams had rested on a largely new team, which gradually began to take shape from the beginning of the season in September 2014. Gone, on this occasion, was a reliance on a single star name, with club and fans aware that title success would require the whole squad to pull together for a common goal – a state of affairs that helped keep a lid on expectations and pressure.
The emergence of 24-year-old Basem Morsi thus proved something of a pleasant surprise, the player earning plaudits from Zamalek supporters and beyond with his scoring exploits – going on to finish second in the league’s scorers’ charts. Having gone from relative obscurity to stardom in just a few short months, even earning the nickname “The Idol in White” (in reference to Zamalek’s colours), Morsi spoke exclusively with FIFA.com in the aftermath of the championship win about his rising profile and future goals.
Though he showed a nose for goal at previous clubs Petrojet and El Entag El Harby, few would have predicted the heights that Morsi has hit this season. Snapped up ahead of the 2014/15 campaign by Zamalek, he had been told to expect to start on the bench as the team’s fourth-choice striker.
Yet this outwardly calm and reserved individual is not short on ambition or belief and, though failing to get off the scoring mark in the first five weeks of the championship, come week six he had netted his first goal and never looked back. With greater focus and more opportunities, Morsi’s charge towards the upper reaches of the scorers’ charts had begun.
“I knew that breaking into the first team would be difficult, but every time I pulled on the white shirt I was determined to make my presence felt,” said Morsi. “My aim wasn’t just to play, but to help the team to win the league once again and become the top goalscorer. We achieved our main aim and won the league, which was of course the most important thing for everyone. My mission wasn’t finished though, and I ended up coming second with 18 goals (two behind the division’s top scorer).”
So, to what does Morsi attribute his rapid rise to a key role at Zamalek? “The deal all of us Zamalek players at the beginning of the season made with each other to win the league was vital,” he revealed. “Our coaching staff are very well prepared too, which provided us with stability. The players focused their full attention on achieving wins for Zamalek, and on the pitch everyone supported everyone else. That’s why we achieved success and eventually made our dream happen.
“This achievement made us very happy, and I definitely owe a debt to my team-mates who supported me and backed me up in every match,” he continued. “Though I wasn’t able to finish the league’s top goalscorer, that will only increase my determination to come back next season and try again. I won’t settle for anything less than reaching the top.”
What next for Morsi?
Not content with winning the league title, Morsi feels that success is just Zamalek’s first step towards even greater honours: “We won the league title this season but that’s not enough for us: it’s not our only objective.
“We’re still in the Egypt Cup, with big matches coming up in the knockout stage as we chase a league and cup double. We’re also still in the CAF Confederation Cup, drawing close to a place in the semi-finals, and one of our goals is to win another continental title. These goals motivate us to end the campaign in the best possible way, then to come back with renewed strength next season and attempt to keep hold of what we’ve won.”
Another pending issue is whether the striker has the potential to one day translate his domestic form into a move to a major European league, following in the footsteps of his former club-mate Mohamed Salah – now of AS Roma. “Mo Salah and I were team-mates at Tanta FC when we were younger, and of course I wish him all the best in his pro career. I’ve got big ambitions too,” explained Morsi.
“I’m with Zamalek now and I’m going to give everything I’ve got for the White Knight, but if I get an offer from abroad I will naturally consider it. For the moment though I’m happy where I am and my goal is to give Zamalek’s wonderful fans plenty to celebrate. As players, we owe that to them.”
Morsi was called up to the national team even prior to joining Zamalek, having been selected by previous Egypt coach Shawky Gharib in two friendly encounters. Morsi also turned out for the Pharaohs in their first qualifying match for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, getting on the scoresheet in a 3-0 win over Tanzania.
“Playing for the national team is a great honour for any player, and I got that honour, playing in the first match in the qualifiers and scoring a goal, which has given me confidence,” he enthused. “My next aim is become a fixture in the squad over the coming period, as we face the challenge of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. We’re determined to finish ahead of [group rivals] Nigeria and get back to the African showpiece, where we belong.
“Qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia are also coming up and we’ve got big ambitions for that too. We’re keen to get back to the global competition, having been away from it since Italy 1990,” he continued. “I think this generation of Egyptian footballers has talent across the board and we hope that, with our Argentinian coach Hector Cuper, we’re on track to get back to our rightful place. All we need is to pull together and try to make our hopes into reality out on the pitch. I’m totally confident that we’ll get where we want to be.”
Full of ambition, confidence and with a happy knack for scoring goals, Basem Morsi looks all set to follow in the footsteps of Egyptian players who have won over the hearts and minds of their country’s fans over the years. Yet just how indelible a mark will he leave in the rich annals of Egyptian football history? Only time will tell.