Zidan, who was not present for the trial and whose current location remains unknown, has been without a club since leaving Emirati side Baniyas in January after being frozen out of the first team squad. Instead, the 31-year-old had been working as a pundit for Al-Jazeera Sports. He is permitted to appeal against the sentence, but it is reported that should he return to the country of his birth he is likely to face immediate arrest.
Zidan’s career has been in freefall since leaving Mainz in 2012, after his third spell for the club with whom he famously became the only player in the history of the Bundesliga to score in each of his first six games with his new side after the transfer window. Zidan, who also has German citizenship, played the bulk of his career in Germany, also turning out for Werder Bremen and Hamburg, as well as Dortmund, where he won the league in 2011.
Capped 44 times by his country, with 13 goals to his name, Zidan was part of the Egyptian golden generation that featured Ahmed Hassan and Mohamed Abou Trika, and won back-to-back African Cup of Nations titles in 2008 and 2010. On British shores he is perhaps best remembered for scoring his side’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to England in March 2010.
Though Zidan has not formerly retired, after ten months without a club and a prison sentence hanging over him it would appear to be the end of his playing days. Though Zidan’s exuberant and often difficult personality meant he was often better known for his activities off the pitch, such as shaving the symbols ‘love equals football’ into his hair, and frequently falling out with the Egyptian football authorities, he was a hugely talented and unpredictable player.
But controversy was never far away, and though spats with managers and teammates are sometimes to be expected, it was Zidan’s actions in the aftermath of the Port Said disaster that changed his reputation in his homeland.
Following the Port Said disaster in February 2012 in which 74 fans were killed, Zidan drew widespread criticism when he failed to acknowledge the tragedy after scoring his first goal in his last spell with Mainz.
Zidan, who was born in Port Said, then gave an interview to the privately owned Egyptian satellite channel CBC, in which he apologised for his lack of action. “I really didn’t mean to provoke the emotions of the Egyptians,” he said.
But it was his comments in support of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak that caused the greatest scandal. “I kissed Mubarak’s hand when he honoured Egypt after the 2010 African Cup of Nations as I saw him as a father of all Egyptians,” said Zidan.
In the increasingly unstable environment of a post-Mubarak Egypt, Zidan’s comments reflected on the patriarchal nature of many Arab world leaders at a time when the Arab spring was sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East, eliciting a fiery response from the millions of protesters whose actions had changed their country’s political landscape.
Zidan angered his supporters even further he refused to join his national side for a crucial Cup of Nations qualifier, which Egypt then drew 1-1, resulting in an aggregate loss and failure to qualify for the African Championship for the second time in a row. Having chosen instead to travel to China to discuss a contract with a potential new club, Zidan was banned from playing in Egypt for life by the Egyptian Football Association for his transgression.
Just weeks later Zidan was reported to have visited Mubarak’s son Alaa Mubarak in prison, where he had been held on suspicion of stock market fraud, along with his brother Gamal. Egyptian security forces confirmed the visit, but Zidan maintained it had never taken place, insisting he was in Dubai at the time.
Still, Zidan’s pro-Mubarak views have drawn something of a line in the sand. In many ways, as Egypt and much of the Arab world fights for political change, football in these regions is evolving too. The patriarchal rule of Mubarak and others such as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Yemen’s Abdullah Ali Saleh and Libya’s Al Saadi al Qaddafi, who have all used football as a vehicle for scoring political points, is being eroded.
Partly this is because football, with all the masculine and authoritarian stereotypes it plays into, offers leaders of this kind the perfect propaganda opportunity. When Zidan and Egypt triumphed in the Cup of Nations, these were Mubarak’s victories, as Zidan alluded to in his comments to CBC, and on the players part there was little reason to question this, their status affording them lives of luxury.
But Egypt now is a very different place, one without Zidan and Mubarak, and its football is changing as dramatically and quickly as its politics.