Egyptian right winger Ahmed Al Muhammadi has been one of the surprise packages so far this season in the English Premier League.
"The Egyptian Beckham", as he has been dubbed, has adapted to the English game with ease and has consequently been linked with possible moves to Arsenal and Manchester United after some highly impressive performances for Sunderland.
Now let's go back two years in time. Striker Amr Zaki was also taking the English top flight by storm playing for Wigan Athletic, and was reportedly targeted by heavyweights Real Madrid and Liverpool. Just like Al Muhammadi, Zaki made a name for himself in no time at all through his tenacity and physical strength.
However Zaki couldn't maintain his form and was not helped by a reputation for a lack of professionalism, failing on more than one occasion to report back from international duty on time. He seemingly couldn't handle the media hype surrounding him, adopting a sense of arrogance while losing his goal-scoring touch.
This lack of discipline appears to be a trait for many Egyptian footballers – They may be extremely talented, yet indiscipline has seen too many return home with their tail between their legs.
This proved also to be the case with both Mido and Hossam Ghaly – Talented players who made an initial splash in England but ultimately didn't possess the required mentality to achieve long-term success at the highest level.
All of this indicates that the coming months will be crucial for 23-year-old Al Muhammadi, who is currently playing for Sunderland on a season-long loan deal from Egyptian outfit ENPPI.
Working under Steve Bruce, the same man who couldn't handle Amr Zaki 's ill-disciplined behavior, Al Muhammadi is so far dealing with the pressure. He must now be prepared to overcome the same difficulties that Zaki couldn't handle – media hype in his home country and in England surrounding his future, coupled with an unfamiliar frosty English winter.
So the question for the versatile right-sided player is not so much whether he will soon be plying his trade for Arsene Wenger or Alex Ferguson. It is rather whether he will be able to maintain long-term consistency in England and to display a mature mentality compared with his compatriots who have previously tried their luck in the English game.
One can only speculate on how Al Muhammadi will react to the attention placed upon him and to the other obstacles in front of him. Yet it is safe to say that "Elmo" is very different from the other Egyptians who have played in England – and that will be his key to long term success in the Premier League.
Bruce said about Al Muhammadi, "I had Amr Zaki and Mido and that was an experience, but you can’t tar everyone with the same brush. He’s chalk and cheese from them. In fact, he’s a delight. He’s such a dedicated kid, I hope he keeps his feet on the ground. All he wants to do is play. It’s quite refreshing."
It is important to emphasize that unlike Zaki, Mido and Ghaly, Al Muhammadi never played for one of Egypt's big sides, Al Ahly and Zamalek. That has had a profound impact on his personality.
Instead, he played for quite minor sides Ghazl Mehalla and ENPPI and as a result has apparently not been tainted with the arrogant approach adopted by many young stars who play for the two Egyptian giants. Al Ahly and Zamalek are followed by millions in Egypt and are under no less of the media spotlight than England's top sides.
Playing for smaller clubs suited Al Muhammadi, who has always been characterized as a shy player and person. He is renowned as a hard working and intelligent individual and despite his obvious talent, has little or no ego. For this reason, Ahmed Al Muhammadi has every chance of lighting up Europe in the coming years and becoming one of the best Egyptians ever to play on the continent.