Ray Parlour flew in a few weeks ago to officially announce Hyde Park Developments as Arsenal's official partner in Egypt.
It was a gloomy Thursday afternoon when I made my way to New Cairo's Fair Zone to sit with the popular former Arsenal and England footballer, Ray Parlour, who flew in this month along with Arsenal's Business Development Director Gordon Tannock, to sign an unprecedented deal with Hyde Park Developments, which will see the real estate giant become Arsenal FC's official partner in the country.
The agreement also entails bringing Arsenal coaches to train Egyptian coaches in the latest coaching techniques and methods. Hyde Park Developments has also got a full-fledged football academy in the works, in which it will also collaborate with Arsenal FC to make it truly one of a kind.
This is your first time in Egypt, how has it been so far?
Ray Parlour: It's been really good. The people have been lovely and the hospitality has been superb. Obviously, I'm very excited about the new partnership with Hyde Park. When Arsenal asked me if I want go to Egypt, I jumped at the chance, because I've never been here before and it didn't disappoint - it's been a great trip so far.
How do you see the future of football in Egypt with big names like Mohamed Salah and El Nenny emerging from the country?
Ray Parlour: The most important thing for Egypt is being in the World Cup this year. The exposure from being in the World Cup is going to be really strong for your country and for football itself. We probably have 5 or 6 Egyptian players in the English League at the moment, which is a real bonus for you guys. Your future is very bright. As I said, the most important thing is that Egypt gets to the World Cup every four years. The most important thing is to work on a structure that gets you there every time.
With Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia in Egypt's World Cup group, do you think we have a good chance?
Ray Parlour: It's going to be difficult. Realistically, the most important thing for you guys is being there. Expectation won't be that high in Egypt. But you've got to believe you can do well. You've got some good players, you've got Mo Salah who has probably been the Premiership's best player, which is a huge accolade. So you've got to believe you can beat Uraguay and Russia. But as it is, Egypt, Uruguay and Russia are the stars of the group. But, you've got to make sure not to lose the first game; if you score one point in the first game, you've got a great opportunity. If you get to the last 16, it would be an amazing achievement.
What about England? Do you have high hopes?
Ray Parlour: Expectations are not really as high as they used to be in England. Our group has Tunisia, Panama and Belgium. I expect Belgium and England to qualify. Potentially, they'll get someone like Colombia or Poland or Japan in the next round. You'd expect them to get through that stage, but then the quarter final is what's going to be tough for them. Brazil, Germany, and teams like that will come in. But I'm optimistic.
Arsenal is a really popular club in Egypt, why do you think that is?
Ray Parlour: It helps when you get players like El Nenny, who's obviously a significant player from Egypt. But aside from that, Arsenal has always been an interesting team to watch in general. The style of players is very distinct and they're just a good watch for any football fan.
How do you feel Arsenal changed since you retired?
Ray Parlour: Well, football itself changed since I retired back in 2004. The teams have gotten better and more competitive. It's much harder now to win the league than it was in my time. Arsenal are still competitive, but it's a lot harder to win trophies now in England's Premier League.
Do you have a message for Arsenal's Egyptian fans?
Ray Parlour: Well, keep supporting and believing we can win the league again. I also just want to say thank you for having me in your great country and for the amazing hospitality.
Now, Gordon, tell us about the new partnership between Arsenal and Hyde Park Developments.
Gordon: The partnership with Hyde Park is our first in Egypt, so it's a very important one for the club. As Ray mentioned, we're very popular in Egypt and it's helped by the fact that Mohamed El Nenny plays for the team. The discussion with Hyde Park Developments over the past 18 months showed there was a real connection straight away.
One of the main elements of the agreement is that we're bringing coaches over to Egypt to teach local coaches the most advanced coaching techniques. That is something that Arsenal is famous for; developing homegrown talent. Our program, Coach the Coaches, will help pass on the great methods, which are very important.
How will Coach The Coaches program be beneficial to Egypt's football scene?
Gordon: Egypt has qualified for the World Cup and they've got some fantastic players in the Premier League, which shows you must be doing something right. But hopefully what we can bring is Arsenal's distinct football philosophy, as well as new ideas to compliment what's already happening in Egypt.
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