There’s a new ‘Sherif’ in town
Egyptian soccer transfer comes to the US to balance his sport with school
Born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, sophomore Longwood men’s soccer transfer Sherif Maalouf experienced a different environment to develop both his body and mind.
In the majority of the United States, education takes precedence to athletics, especially at the K-12 level. Public school students can’t skip school then participate in games afterwards and club practices don’t provide a legitimate reason to miss classes.
However, as Maalouf aged and continued to increase his level of play, it became more difficult for him to balance his love for soccer and desire to remain engaged in school.
“It’s hard here in Egypt, it’s either studying or playing soccer, you cannot do both,” said Maalouf.
After watching his first soccer game around five years old with his father, Maalouf was hooked on the sport.
“I wake up and I play soccer, I watch soccer, I do everything for soccer to be honest. Like it’s been my passion since I was like six. It helped me grow a lot over the past years and I think it’s the most important thing in my life after my family and friends,” he said.
Beginning his training in small-sided games on a church team — similar to a team associated with a school but instead playing for a church — , he worked his way up to playing for a second division semi-professional team at age 12.
Maalouf at 16 then garnered the attention of the first division semi-professional team, Al-Ahy, after he scored 37 goals in the second division tournament. Al-Ahy is considered the “most popular” and strongest soccer club in Africa, according to Maalouf.
The 5’6” forward played with Al-Ahy for three years; despite being a consistent starter for the first two, Maalouf lost playing time in his third as practices conflicted with school.
“All the players in Al-Ahy used to skip school, they only practiced,” said Maalouf. “Sometimes practice was at ten in the morning but I would have school until two. And they didn’t care. All they cared about was having their players on the pitch and they don’t care if we study or do anything.”
His experience with the coaching staff at Al-Ahy led him to look for other options, to find a way to be able to continue to play soccer while continuing his education. After looking into it, he found that college soccer in the US had the balance he wanted.
“I want to be a professional soccer player, if it doesn’t happen I’ll have my degree and hopefully a good job. That’s what I’m focusing on right now,” said Maalouf.
To Maalouf, soccer is not only a key part of his own life, but an important part of his country.
“In Egypt, we’ve had two revolutions and so it’s a bit tense with politics and the only way for people to forget about this is to watch soccer, play soccer, they love it,” he said.
Maalouf also sought to play soccer in America due to the shakiness of the Egyptian soccer program following the political uprisings.
“In the past five years, political-wise, it’s been hard in Egypt, the soccer program starts then it stops because of the 2010 revolution then the other revolution (in) 2015. There’s always the turbulence that happens. It’s not stable. The soccer program here is not stable. That’s the biggest problem,” explained Maalouf.
Therefore, he spent his first year abroad at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE). However, after two back-to-back ankle sprains early in the season, he was forced to redshirt in order to retain his four years of NCAA eligibility.
Following coaching changes at SIUE, Maalouf explored other options and found Longwood.
“I chose Longwood because when I talked to the coaches they made me feel like at home. Plus the visit had a huge impact on me. When I met my teammates and all the coaching staff and stuff they were really nice. I like the campus it’s a really nice campus and I like Virginia,” said Maalouf.
Maalouf will bring experience playing and adjusting to skilled opponents to Longwood.
During his time on Al-Ahy, the team played in a well-regarded international tournament called the Alkass Cup in Qatar and competed against top European clubs like F.C. Barcelona and Paris-Saint Germain (PSG).
Within the tournament, Maalouf earned MVP while playing against the best team from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and was listed as one of the top scorers of the event.
The forward hopes to help lead the team, increase communication on the field and, most importantly, score goals.
“I hate losing. I go mad. I just want to win,” said Maalouf. “There’s a lack of leadership on the team, so I hope I can bring that to the team. I hope I can bring leadership and raise the communication level, hopefully. But mainly helping scoring goals.”
With the amount of skill already on the team and his additional help, he believes the team has a solid chance at winning the Big South this season.
“I think the coaches, Coach (Sergio) Rapuano and Coach (Jon) Atkinson, are really nice guys and I think they’re really good coaches. As for my new teammates I watched them play and think they have a lot to give, they’re really good soccer players and I hope we can do good things next year,” said Maalouf.
“I’m really looking forward to playing on the team and having good results and hopefully win the conference.”
Halle Parker | Sports Editor | @_HalParker