‘I’ll be busy. That’s for sure.’
This was the answer from a bothered yet unruffled Arsene Wenger when bombarded with the repeated question of who he’d be signing in the approaching January transfer window back in 2016.
Defensive midfield was the profile touted for reinforcement and with spate of injuries in this department it was as if the Frenchman’s hand was forced.
Not long after a dramatic 3-3 draw at Anfield with Liverpool, it was announced that an agreement would be reached with FC Basel for their holding midfielder, Mohamed Elneny.
The Egyptian had built a respectable career for himself, rarely causing any problems in the dressing room or being a general pain around the club. An astute passer of the ball and cool figure on the pitch, Elneny an ideal squad member.
Elneny was delighted at joining the North London club, citing he had joined ‘a big football family’. His journey to the top seems to have happened in a small burst, but that’s only if you don’t scratch the surface.
Unknown to most, the Egyptian played a key role in his club’s success during his time at Basel. Throughout his time with the Swiss juggernauts, he played alongside the likes of current Roma winger Mohammed Salah, Talaunt (brother of Granit) Xhaka and the young, promising attacker, Breel Donald Embolo.
He played a large role in their achievements during this period as he orchestrated many of their moves from deep.
Stating he was ‘trained by his father at age 3’, it is evident Elneny’s love for the beautiful game is deep-rooted and may never stop going. He’s improved year-upon-year during his career, supported by the steady increase of his attacking contributions as he scored more goals in his final season at Basel than his first three years at the club combined.
The sky may well be the limit for Arsenal’s first ever Egyptian footballer but his journey so far has been a long and winding one.
Starting out at Al Ahly in Egypt, Elneny spent most of his youth career at the most successful club in the nation’s history. They are likely to win a record 39th league title at the end of the current season.
Elneny found chances few and far between with ‘The (Egyptian) Red Devils’ so he transferred to fellow Egyptian Premier League side, El Mokawloon.
It was here where Elneny found a friend for life in Mohamed Salah, as he quickly bonded with the winger. It was at Mokawloon where Elneny began to shape his game, becoming a box-to-box midfielder who retained the same high intensity style for the full 90 minutes.
His impressive performances piqued interest from some of Europe’s most intricate scouting systems, and he landed himself a trial at Swiss super-club FC Basel. Impressing at a winter training camp, Elneny was signed on a permanent deal with the club.
His first few months at the club ended successfully, winning the Swiss league title, coming in as runner-up in the Swiss Cup and reaching the Europa League semi-finals. His familiarisation with his surroundings was accelerated by the help of close friend and ‘older brother’ figure, Salah. Salah would drive Elneny to training, help him learn the language and essentially help him adjust to his surroundings.
As Switzerland became more comfortable for the midfielder, he slowly started to score goals and get assists for his club, albeit in small quantities. This was a sign he was becoming a more intelligent player, adding to his game whilst also being able to retain the same dynamism.
His performances in European competition also caught people’s attention, playing a starring role in his side’s march to the latter stages of the Europa League before having their crusade halted by Rafa Benítez and eventual winners, Chelsea.
Despite the usual disappointment of getting knocked out, it was the furthest the club had ever gone in any form of European competition. The following year in the Champions League, Basel came second in a group containing Liverpool and Real Madrid, with Elneny a standout performer again.
His game was clearly evolving. He was becoming a complete player who could do anything and everything to an acceptable standard.
It was clear he was ready for the next level.
Premier League Bound
On 14th January 2016, it was announced Mohamed Elneny was to sign for Arsenal subject to a medical. Elneny became the first ever Egyptian to sign for the Gunners.
The scouts at the club were more than likely enticed by Elneny’s relaxed demeanour on the field, with his ability to recycle the ball effectively whilst also being able to drive forward when necessary.
Within his first few months at the club, Elneny proved to be a successful signing as he won Arsenal’s Player of the Month award for March and April in addition to scoring against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Thus far Elneny has shown to be worth the money spent on him and he has been a practical asset to his manager, reliable whenever called upon.
Exuding confidence, expressing modesty and exemplifying humbleness are all virtues Mohamed Elneny carries in abundance.
A cool and collected figure off the pitch, he remains a positive influence in the dressing room as he also acts as a reminder to the youth players at the club the benefits of working hard and staying grounded.
Mohamed Elneny, never change.