One of the most famous and successful Egyptian players of all time, he arrived at Oakwell aged 29 in a bid to restart a career that had mostly been played in the top leagues in Europe. But he struggled with fitness issues and would last just seven months in South Yorkshire. It was a sad and bizarre end to a career that looked set to be magnificent a decade earlier. Mido – whose real name is Ahmed Abdelhamid – was tipped to be a future world star when at Dutch giants Ajax, for whom he scored 21 goals in 23 league starts and netted against Real Madrid in the Champions League while rated on the same level as team-mate and friend Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He then played at the highest level in Spain with Celta Vigo, France with Marseille and Italy with Roma before netting 11 goals in 27 Premier League games on loan to Tottenham Hotspur in 2005/06. The striker – who made 50 appearances for Egypt – moved on to Middesbrough, Wigan and West Ham then returned to Ajax in 2010. But, by his arrival at Oakwell in 2012, had only made a handful appearances for Egyptian club Zamalek in the previous two years. Barnsley manager Keith Hill had enjoyed great success rejuvenating the career of Ricardo Vaz Te the previous season and hoped to do the same with Mido. The striker joined on a one-year contract, with Hill saying: ‘I am happy to put my name to the signing of Mido.’
Bobby Hassell, one of the senior Reds players at the time, told the Chronicle: “The first day he turned up on the training field, I turned around to the manager and said: ‘is this a wind-up?’ I didn’t recognise him. He was that overweight and unfit that it became a bit of a joke. It was a shame because he showed in training that he was an unbelievable player. But he couldn’t run and, in the modern game, if you are not athletic you have no chance as a footballer.
“He was a great guy. I had some good conversations with him in the gym. He was excellent with the young players in terms of advice. He definitely wasn’t a bad person, at all, but he had lost all his desire to be a professional footballer. Keith liked to get players who had gone off track and reignite their careers. He took a gamble that he could get Mido fit but, unfortunately for us, he wasn’t interested in getting fit or being a footballer. He was extremely wealthy and just lacked motivation.”
Tom Kennedy added: “You could see he was brilliant with the ball at his feet. It was amazing to be around someone who had played at the highest level. The problem with him at that time was that he was driving from the North East every day and no one could work out why he wasn’t shifting any weight, even though he seemed to be doing all the fitness work. Then you would get in his car and it would be full of fast food wrappers. It could have been an unbelievable signing but he was more thinking about retirement and living back in Egypt. He was a magician in training but, in the Championship, you have to be able to get around the pitch. At that time, Mido couldn’t do that.”
After a few outings in the under 23s, Hill eventually brought Mido on for his first team debut after 63 minutes of a home game against Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town on November 10. One of his team-mates that day was future England centre-back John Stones. He was booked within minutes for a wild tackle on Sean Scannell and struggled to get on the ball in the 1-0 defeat. Hassell said: “He was two yards off the pace, he took a bad touch and made a yellow card tackle. When he came on, all the fans were laughing because he was two stone overweight. It just didn’t look right for a Championship club. Obviously he didn’t last long. I have seen him on TV as a pundit recently, and he looks more in shape now than he did when he played for us.”
The following month, Mido tweeted in Arabic while attending a demonstration of Palestinian supporters in Westminster, saying: “In London against Israel. Oh Lord burn them.” He was fined by the club who apologised and, a few days later, Hill announced he would be leaving. The manager said: “I feel educated. Mido is an exceptional person. He is somebody who has played at the highest level in most leagues in Europe. He’s fallen partway down the footballing tree. I thought we could reinstate him and I put a lot of effort into the deal.
“I ignored a lot of people because I thought we were going to resurrect his career. But every player has got to be compatible with what we are trying to achieve. It just hasn’t happened. “We’re going to pursue different directions.” Mido’s contract was terminated the following month and, now 37, he has worked as a pundit and coach in Egypt with that Huddersfield match being his last game in professional football.