The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) has accepted the resignation of controversial national team coach Hassan Shehata after a disappointing goalless draw against South Africa that thwarted the team’s hopes of qualifying for the African Cup of Nations.
Mr. Shehata, who led Egypt to three consecutive African Cup titles, tendered his resignation to an EFA emergency meeting called to discuss his future amid multiple calls by fans on the Internet and social media for termination of his contract.
An EFA press release said that Mr. Shehata, a former forward who also won the African Cup as a player, had personally told the team of his decision to step down from his post.
Earlier, Mr. Shehata refused to attend the EFA’s post-match news conference.
The draw against South Africa meant that Egypt ended at the bottom of its group and will for the first time in 29 years not be competing in the African Cup finals.
Once untouchable, Mr. Shehata has been under attack in recent months not only for the team’s poor performance in this year’s African tournament, but also because of his outspoken support of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Critics have charged that Egypt performed poorly in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations because Mr. Shehata had failed to replace aging players with younger talent.
Militant soccer fans who played a key role in mass anti-government protests that toppled Mr. Mubarak in February believe that Mr. Shehata’s dismissal serves their goal of removing the ousted president’s associates from key positions in soccer.
Mr. Shehata’s pro-Mubarak stance during the anti-government protests irked militant fans many of whom played a key role in clashes with police and supporters of the ousted president. As a result, militant fans have turned their back on Mr. Shehata as well as the team itself because most players stayed on the sidelines during the protests.
The rift with the fans had prompted Mr. Shehata to warn several times in recent months that he was considering resigning as national coach.
“I changed my mind because I still hope I can help Egypt reach the World Cup. I believe the current crop and the new players are ambitious and eager to achieve that aim,” he told a Kuwaiti newspaper earlier this week.
Mr. Shehata has rejected criticism and accused the media of seeking to undermine his position. “The corrupt media is still disrupting our work. I endured lots of hard times because of their unjustified attacks on me,” Mr. Shehata said.
Manuel Jose, the Portuguese trainer of crowned Cairo club Al Ahly SC, one of Africa’s most popular clubs, urged soccer fans not to criticize Mr. Shehata too harshly for Egypt’s poor performance against South Africa.
“Shehata and his squad have achieved glory in Egyptian football, dominating in Africa for years so we shouldn’t attack them. The Egyptian national coaching staff follow the same strategy we do in selecting players as they combine experienced players with juniors and this is good,” Al Ahram newspaper quoted Mr. Jose as saying.
(James M. Dorsey is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com)