Rising Stars: Stoke’s Ramadan Sobhi living up to the hype from Egypt

In Depth

“I sent a message to Jose Mourinho and asked him to keep an eye on Ramadan with Stoke City. He is a brilliant player and he can play at Manchester United.”

Few people in England would have paid much attention when Stoke signed Ramadan Sobhi from Al Ahly last summer, but as far as Martin Jol was concerned, the Premier League side had nabbed a potential superstar.

Stoke and Al Ahly eventually agreed a fee which could potentially rise to €6million for the young Egypt winger, but Jol had done his utmost to stop the deal from happening, describing the money being offered as “peanuts”.

“He’s one of the best players and young talents I’ve ever seen in England, in Germany, in Holland, in Spain,” Jol had said in an interview on Nile Sports TV.

“If people (truly) knew him, they would offer us 15 or 20 million euros.”

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Roma failed with a bid for Sobhi in 2015, while Fiorentina tried to hijack Stoke’s move a year later. Arsenal, Chelsea, Milan and Fiorentina were among the other clubs said to have shown interest in a player described by Mido as already “the best talent in North Africa”.

“He is the best young player I’ve seen in years,” the former Ajax, Roma and Tottenham forward said after Ramadan’s transfer to Stoke was concluded.

“He has everything, he’s strong and his technical ability is amazing. He’s clever, he’s comfortable in one-on-one situations and he can assist and score goals as well.

“But the most important thing for me is he has the character, he has a big personality and is not scared of big occasions.

“I’m not worried about Ramadan when it comes to the Premier League because he has everything to succeed in such a strong league.”

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That Ramadan has started only seven games in the Premier League this season might suggest he has so far failed to live up to the hype, but nothing could be further from the truth.

He has impressed virtually every time he has taken to the field and is one of only 14 Premier League players on the 40-man shortlist to win the prestigious Golden Boy award.

However, Mark Hughes had vowed to “be careful with him”, and that wish to gradually introduce the 20-year-old to the demands of regular English football combined with the competition provided by Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri means this has been an acclimatisation as opposed to a breakthrough year.

That said, Ramadan enjoyed an unbroken six-game starting run in the side through February until early April in which Arnautovic was forced into a less favoured right-wing slot.

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As Mido acknowledged, the two players are very similar, and Hughes has so far decided against trying to squeeze both in when Shaqiri has been available.

There is certainly no shame in Ramadan being kept out of the team by Shaqiri, but Mido believes the Little Pharaoh will eventually force his way into the starting reckoning regardless of the other stars at Hughes’ disposal.

“He can score goals, assist and works hard when he doesn’t have the ball, something which is essential for playing in England,” Mido told KingFut.

“He can play on the left, cut inside and score. His style is a bit similar to Arnautovic, but he can be better than him.”

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Ramadan has an enormous following in Egypt. In fact, he is the Premier League’s most-followed player aged 20 or under on Twitter.

Such was the increased North African interest in Stoke following his signing that the club’s Facebook following grew by 15% in a week. They have since set up Arabic accounts on both Twitter and Facebook such is the demand for ‘Ramadona’ news.

It hasn’t happened for no reason. He won both the Egyptian Premier League and Super Cup twice at Al Ahly, scoring 17 goals in 71 games, and has already been capped 16 times by the full national team, helping them finish as runners-up in the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.

Still, plenty would have doubted whether a 19-year-old from Egypt would be ready for the pace and physicality of the English Premier League. After all, numerous players more established than Ramadan have struggled during their first year on these shores.

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But Ramadan has had no such struggles. In fact, one of his most impressive attributes is his strength. When he put in a man-of-the-match display on his first start up against the beast that is Michail Antonio, Stoke fans knew they had a player on their hands.

Hughes had made reference to Ramadan’s strength following his first real run in the Potters’ previous game when he played 64 minutes as an early replacement for Shaqiri, going on to create a crucial goal when his trickery and cross inside the box forced Swansea’s Alfie Mawson to put through his own net.

“He’s looked really strong in training,” Hughes said. “He’s a 19-year-old man; he’s not a kid in terms of his physicality so I knew he could cope with it.

“And you saw for yourself that once he gets in good areas of the pitch then he’s very difficult to read and understand what he’s going to do.”

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Ramadan’s dribbling ability is his other main strength. In his final season with Al Ahly, he completed 92 take-ons, more than any other player in the league, and at an average of four per game.

Quick but not rapid, his trickery on the ball and strength to hold off opponents allows for his effectiveness. Both were evident when he shielded the ball from three Crystal Palace defenders to set up Joe Allen for his second assist of the season in February.

“When you get him in the final third and he’s twisting and turning in the box, there’s very few I’ve seen as good as him in those situations,” Hughes said after another impressive showing from the youngster against Middlesbrough.

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Ramadan’s strength is also important when defending, which he has shown a great willingness to do, but there are still weaknesses to his game which Hughes and the other coaches at Stoke will be keen to work on, namely that he doesn’t shoot enough and sometimes wastes crossing opportunities from the left in favour of cutting inside onto his right.

A chance creation record of less than one per 90 minutes (0.8) is only half of what Arnautovic manages and well down on Shaqiri’s 2.1 chances creates per 90 minutes, explaining why he is forced to play second fiddle when those two are both available.

If Ramadan can improve on that next season, Hughes will simply have to find a way of fitting all three into the same team. Otherwise Stoke risk losing a real gem in the making.

By Mark Holmes

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