Will Pyramids FC upset the Egyptian status quo?
Background image: Crosskimo.
All over the world, football leagues are dominated by pairs of indestructible football behemoths. Celtic and Rangers in Scotland, Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain, Juventus and Internazionale in Italy. Egypt is another; a nation commanded by an unstoppable duo in the form of Al-Ahly and Zamalek. The two Cairo sides have won every edition of the Egyptian Premier League since 2001-2002. Al-Ahly are especially potent, the most successful club in the world in terms of pure numbers of trophies, who in 2005 won enjoyed a record-breaking invincible season, going undefeated in every game they played across six competitions.
One team is surging up the table with a determination to change the status quo. Pyramids FC finished third last season, and after a strong start to the current campaign, are gunning for top spot this time around. This strange club was once known as Al Assiouty Sport, but changed beyond all recognition in 2018 when bought out by Saudi Sports Authority chairman, Turki Al-Sheikh. Pyramids took a sphynx as its logo, moved to Cairo and adopted their current moniker in an effort to appeal on the international market.
They haven’t just been active in the public relations department, either. They spent forty million euros on building their squad last year, bringing in big names from South America and Europe, which was unprecedented for an African club. Pyramids even became amongst the few Egyptian top-flight teams where fans could watch the team live; following the Port Said stadium riot, supporters were banned from attending matches in Egypt, a decision only reversed at the start of this season. But Pyramids were able to circumvent the restriction by paying locals to attend their games before writing them off as employees of the club who could enter the stadium on match days...
Recently, much of the fanfare around Pyramids has evaporated. The club’s original benefactor, Turki Al-Sheikh, had taken his money elsewhere. Although he’s been replaced by another wealthy benefactor, things aren’t quite the same. The big names from the footballing giants of the world largely departed and Pyramids seem almost like a normal club again. That is, if you can forget their flamboyant branding.
But Pyramids were never a team based solely on foreign talent. They also invested heavily in quality domestic players, and in Egypt they are present in spades. Members of the 2018 World Cup squad with experience playing in Europe like Ali Gabr and Omar Gaber, as well as prospects in the vein of Eric Traoré and Islam Issa give Pyramids a solid spine to challenge Al-Ahly and co.
They’ve made a good start to the campaign and currently stand unbeaten after five games. Still, they trail Al-Ahly, who conceded a single goal in their first four outings, scoring 14 in the process. Last season, Pyramids finished in third place, ten points behind Al-Ahly and two behind Zamalek. It’s a case of baby steps: Pyramids can probably snaffle the runners up spot this time around, going the full distance may be a few seasons away yet.
In the end, dethroning Al-Ahly long term is going to take an almighty push. And while it may not happen any time soon. Pyramids have built something on the pitch which could eventually overturn the status quo. A shake-up is always nice. But a club like Pyramids winning the league shouldn’t be celebrated by anyone. They’re a club built around the ambitions of a member of a foreign power, with an entirely manufactured identity and a fanbase who are paid to attend games.
Perhaps it’s old-fashioned, but I’d sooner see the league won by one of the older Cairo clubs, with their passionate fanbases and long histories. Ten or twenty years in the future, Al-Ahly and Zamalek will still be famous names in African football, capturing the hearts and minds of millions. Pyramids FC will be nothing more than a fleeting memory, a cheap imitation of Egypt’s ancient wonders and modern-day sporting superstructures.