When Egyptian centre back Ahmed Hegazi signed for West Bromwich Albion, the few who noticed the transfer go through believed the player would do little more than act as backup for existing centre-backs Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley.
However, with the aforementioned pair injured at the start of the season the 26-year-old was thrown in at the deep end and performed admirably on his debut, scoring the goal that defeated Bournemouth on the opening day of the 2017/18 campaign.
Now, after 18 appearances in England’s top-flight, the Baggies have secured his permanent signing after an initial loan spell from Egyptian champions Al Ahly.
“This is great news for the Club – Ahmed has been absolutely terrific for me since I arrived and I am sure there is even more to come from him in the future,” Alan Pardew commented after the news was made official.
“He is one of the players we can build around on the road ahead. He has a big role to play and it is good for the player and the Club to remove any doubts and make the transfer permanent.
“I’m sure it is something the supporters will also welcome.”
He leads the club in clearances this season, averaging 6.9 per game, compared to Jonny Evans average of 4.1.
“I am very happy with the Club and very happy to be part of this group of players,” Hegazi admitted, joined by his wife and kids at the press conference.
“I know the results are not what we would want at the moment. But there is great spirit here and I am sure that we will turn the results in our favour before long.”
Standing at 6ft 4ins, Hegazi fits the mould for a Premier League centre-back, but despite his height he’s much more mobile than the likes of McAuley thanks to his slimmer frame and relative youth. This doesn’t mean he isn’t strong, though, as he has a wiry build which can give even the most robust attackers a hard time.
However, he did have some problems in a game against Stoke City this season when he faced the rare prospect of marking someone taller than himself. Peter Crouch was introduced by Stoke manager Mark Hughes later in the game and his mere presence led to a mistake which cost West Brom a win.
Hegazi swung a boot to clear the ball but failed to deal with the situation, and the 6ft 7ins Englishman was able to equalise.
“These things happen,” said then boss Pulis afterwards. “They brought Crouchy on and without him doing anything his presence unnerves defenders. He came on and without doing a lot really his presences unnerves people when the ball goes in the box.”
Aside from this error Hegazi has been a key part of the West Brom side, performing well since being given the opportunity by those early injuries to the club’s previous centre-back duo.
Playing alongside Craig Dawson, and one-time Manchester City transfer target Evans, he’s kept his place in the team ahead of 37-year-old McAuley – and the latter’s age is one of the reasons he could be important for the club going forward.
Despite being right footed he’s comfortable on the left side of defence, and should also be able to offer an option on the right if he’s ever needed to fill in there.
He wins an average of 2.6 aerial duels per game, as you’d expect for someone of his size, and also makes more than six clearances in a defence which is very much about clearing lines rather than maintaining possession and playing out from the back.
His previous experience in Europe came in Italy, first for Fiorentina where his time was dogged by serious knee injuries, and then a period on loan at Serie B side Perugia. He was unable to really get going in Italy due to those injury problems, and returned to Egypt with Al Ahly to rebuild strength in his knee, and rebuild his career.
This is exactly what he did, winning two league titles amid being voted in the team of the tournament as Egypt finished runners up in the African Cup of Nations earlier in 2017.
His most recent venture into Europe has begun in a much more promising fashion, and here’s hoping there are no recurrences of his knee problem.
He’s brought a goal threat at set pieces, an ideal frame for the Pulis way, and gives the club a longer-term centre-back option once McAuley calls it a day.
He’s now on his way to the World Cup too after being part of Egypt’s successful qualifying campaign. After being mentioned as a possible Liverpool transfer target, West Brom have done well to tie him down now, rather than wait for his star to shine bright in Russia next summer.
Signed up until 2022, if he continues to impress as he has, it would be a surprise to see him at the Hawthorns by the time his next renewal is due.