The abrupt international retirement of Al Ahly star Walid Soliman has created an uproar in the Egyptian football world.
But amid the emotional and reactionary hysteria, very few are posing the logical question of why the midfield maestro has not been recalled to the Pharaohs despite his stellar form.
I’m not here to say he does or doesn’t deserve his first international action since 2013. Soliman is an excellent footballer playing a key role in what is currently Egypt’s best club.
However, every manager has an approach, a system, a way of doing things within which not every player fits. Add to that the obvious; that club football in Egypt and Africa is not the same as the international game, and you may be on the way to a sensible answer as to why he’s being left out.
Perhaps the most obvious reason why Soliman has not been called-up is the way in which Egypt manager Javier Aguirre deploys his charges.
Despite often being deployed on the wing, Soliman is a classic playmaker, an attacking midfielder that’s most comfortable behind the striker(s) and that prefers carefully calculated movement and buildup over the frenetic pressing of modern football.
Starting lineups aren’t always exactly the same, but formationally, this is how Egypt kicked-off its home 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Niger and eSwatini.
Aguirre’s system eliminates the need for a playmaker, allowing two pressing wing-forwards (Mahmoud Trezeguet and Mohamed Salah in this graphic) to hug inside while the wing-backs (Ayman Ashraf and Ahmed Elmohamady here) advance to take their place. At least one central midfielder then veers forward in support. This results in no less than six, often seven players aiding in attack.
Could Soliman theoretically fit-in as one of the wing-forwards? Sure, but he prefers to gradually roam into central areas, even if he’s technically deployed on the outside. He is not your quintessential 2018 wing-forward.
Can he fit-in anywhere else? Not really. Both central midfielders in the system require defensive midfielding chops.
That leaves the center-forward, wing-backs, libero, center-backs, and goalkeeper. Translation: That leaves Walid Soliman out of the equation.
Under Aguirre, both wing-forwards are asked to press high for large spells. Though they do not necessarily have to double as virtual full-backs like they did under former manager Hector Cuper, they are asked to run – a lot – and expend serious energy gegenpressing.
Though his effort is fine, Soliman is more of a technical player not exactly known for defensive work ethic or a pension for pressing. Would he suddenly change because Egypt’s coaching staff asks him to?
Speaking of gegenpressing, Soliman is going to be 34 in a few weeks. Can he even become a pressing winger at his age if he wanted to, bearing in mind he’s never had to be one?
Again, Soliman is a fine footballer. But at this stage in his career and at this stage of international football’s evolution, he’s best suited in a purely offensive role in which he can concentrate on pulling the strings in attack and conserving energy when the ball isn’t near him. That role does not exist in Egypt’s current scheme, and has been fading from international football over the past 10 years.
Whether he deserves to be on the team or not is one question. But whether he actually fits into the current Pharaohs set-up is an entirely different, and much more pertinent one.