Mido: ‘I was 34 years old and couldn’t walk 30 yards’
Former Egypt and Middlesbrough striker was warned he would die if he didn’t change
Mido of Middlesbrough celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Cup fifth round win against Sheffield United in 2008. Photo: Professional Sport/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Mido has been talking with refreshing candour for an hour, explaining why he predicted Mohamed Salah would be 10 times as good as Raheem Sterling, accepting he was a selfish player who could be difficult to handle, and praising Gareth Southgate for his transformation since the days when he would “panic” as Middlesbrough’s manager, yet the obvious and only place to start is with the Egyptian’s frank admission that he was staring death in the face unless he lost some weight.
It is an extraordinary story that resonates even more because Egypt are playing their opening World Cup match on Friday and Mido, who is only 35 years old, could quite feasibly have been lining up alongside Salah against Uruguay. Mido, however, retired from playing five years ago, after briefly falling out of love with football towards the end of a disappointing spell at Barnsley, and although he has rediscovered his affection for the game through coaching, the former Tottenham striker has clearly been through quite an ordeal with his health.
“I was 150kg and I reached a point where I couldn’t walk 30 yards,” Mido says. “If I did, I started to feel pain in my back, my joints and my knees. I remember I was getting off my boat in Egypt five months ago – this day is the turning point in my life – and I was walking off on to an island. I had three friends with me and it was 300 yards to the end of the island. The sand was a bit heavy and it was a bit sunny and I said to them: ‘I cannot walk.’ I had to sit for 30 minutes. I was only 34. That was the moment the switch flicked.
“Two days later I saw the doctor. He asked me to do blood tests. When I had the results and the doctor started to talk to me, I knew I had to change. He told me that my cholesterol is 320 and that the top of the average is 200. He said I was on the edge of being diabetic. And, to be honest, the doctor told me that if I continue with my lifestyle, there is a more than an 80 per cent chance that I’ll die before I am 40. He told me: ‘You will die.’”
It was a sobering wake-up call that Mido had no intention of ignoring. Two weeks ago, he posted an updated photo to his 3.86 million Twitter followers, alongside a message revealing that he had lost a remarkable 37kg in five months. In the same breath, Mido thanked those who had mocked him, with the derogatory comments that had been made on social media giving him extra motivation to get back into shape, so much so that he played in the Fifa legends tournament in Moscow on Tuesday.
“I’ve totally transformed my lifestyle,” says Mido, who wants to speak about his story in the hope that he can encourage others with similar problems. “I don’t eat any bad carbs. I don’t eat anything fried at all. And I don’t eat any red meat. I have no salt or sugar. I do general training – swimming, playing squash, playing football, some easy weightlifting. But if I’m putting it in a percentage, it’s 70 per cent what you eat and 30 per cent workouts. If you want to lose weight, it’s what you put in your mouth.”
Mido looks and sounds as though he is in a much better place with his life these days and there is certainly no trace of regret that he is working at the World Cup as a pundit rather than playing as a centre-forward, even if he did tweet a tongue-in-cheek message about his weight loss to remind Héctor Cúper, Egypt’s coach, that he averaged a goal every two games for his country.
Salah, perhaps not surprisingly, has an even better ratio and Mido has no doubt Egypt’s talisman will be fit to face Uruguay and that the Liverpool forward can handle the pressure that comes with around 96 million people back home pinning their hopes on him. “He’s the kind of guy who says: ‘Come on, even if I have the whole nation on my shoulders, I don’t mind that.’
“He’s a great guy and I think the way he developed as a person, comparing Salah of Chelsea and Salah of Liverpool, is a miracle. I saw him at Chelsea and he was a shy boy. I even said on TV that if he keeps that character, unfortunately he will never be a big player, but that his quality can make it to the top. Three years ago when Liverpool wanted to sign Salah and he went to Chelsea, I went on Twitter and said: ‘Salah is 10 times better than Sterling,’ and people laughed at me. Sterling is a very good player, he’s developed so much under [Pep]Guardiola, but Salah is unbelievable, one of the very few players that if it’s his day, there’s no way to stop him.”
Although Mido was never in that category, he played for a distinguished list of clubs, including Ajax, Marseille, Roma and Spurs, and had plenty of talent. The problem, however, tended to be his attitude. “It’s true when I was younger I had some problems with some coaches and I wasn’t an easy boy to handle. I was only thinking of myself. I was selfish. And if it didn’t work for me in one place, the first decision for me was to go somewhere else.
“I was difficult. But I believe it’s so unfair to me now that the English media is still putting me in that corner. I never get what I deserve for what I’ve worked so hard for in the last five years to change that.”
Mido is referring to his progression into management – he has taken charge of three clubs in Egypt – and his appetite for learning when it comes to coaching. “I’ve changed my attitude in everything I’m doing and I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve worked on myself so much to become a good coach and now I’m very well educated. Marcel Desailly, who is working with us at BeIn Sports, convinced me to go to the Welsh coaching programme and said that it was the best thing for me to get a good education. And he wasn’t wrong.”
After finishing his ‘A’ licence with the Football Association of Wales, Mido is doing some punditry work while he weighs up a couple of job offers. He loves analysing football for TV but is dismissive when asked if that could be enough for him. “No, no, no. Coaching, once you taste it, you cannot go out of it. Once you get the opportunity to build your own team, to make your own decisions and see your players doing something on the pitch that you have been working on for weeks, this is the best pleasure I have in my life.”
Generous with his time, Mido is happy to answer questions on anything and everything, including his thoughts on Southgate, who was his manager at Middlesbrough at a time when he now reflects that his playing career was starting to unravel.
“The way I see him talking now, I think that he’s changed a lot because at his first job at Middlesbrough he used to panic big-time during games and at half-time. For me as a player who had played for so many different managers, you could easily see it. If you look at this guy in the dressing room: ‘That’s his first job.’
“But now I see the way that he’s handled Sterling and a lot of other things around the team – I think he learned a lot from working with the FA and working on his badges. He got rushed into the Middlesbrough job and I don’t think that worked in his favour. He wasn’t ready. And I’m sure if you asked Southgate, he would say the same. But I really like what he is doing now.”
Asked how he thinks England will fare at the World Cup, Mido talks about how much he enjoys watching Southgate’s team and then turns on his telephone with a smile. “I have predicted every game. I will show it to you,” he says, pulling up a table. “Brazil will beat Germany in the final. England? They lose 2-1 to Poland in the last 16.” – Guardian service