Hegazi incident cannot be allowed to disrupt squad harmony

There were a few eyebrows raised at the Hawthorns when Dara O’Shea, and not Ahmed Hegazi, was named on the bench for the visit of Brentford, with the general assumption being that it was down to injury.

However, rumours of a bid from Saudi Arabia and a potential training ground bust-up were soon circulating and Slaven Bilić clarified in his post match interviews that the Egyptian had been omitted from the squad due to a training ground incident that was not serious, but enough for him to be left out.

Steve Madeley at The Athletic suggested that the incident may have been the result a misunderstanding as to whether Hegazi should have taken part in a training drill, but there is obviously some frustration on the Egyptian’s part at not playing no doubt enhanced by the reported bid.

That the club in question is Bilić’s former club, Al-Ittihad, is more than likely a coincidence, but it does at least raise the slight possibility of some sort of inside knowledge. Having said that, Hegazi is a high profile player in the Arab football world, so I’m sure that most in that arena are well aware of his current situation.

Whatever the truth behind the incident last week, the situation needs to be dealt with quickly to avoid disrupting what has developed into a very harmonious squad. There are several senior players, such as Brunt, Barry, Gibbs and Austin, who have had to accept being left out of the starting eleven and/or matchday squad, and have done so with good grace knowing that it was for the good of the team. With Bartley and Ajayi performing so well, Hegazi needs to accept that he will have to bide his time.

He should also remember that it was his own decision to delay his knee surgery that meant that he lost his place in the starting line up. There is little question that he was one of Albion’s best performers last season, and we all must acknowledge that he was playing with his injury towards the end of the season. Having delayed surgery to complete the season, he then opted to delay it further to take part in the Africa Cup of Nations that was hosted in his home country.

No one would have denied him the right to do that, but in doing so, he knew that he would not be fit for the start of the new campaign. He, like many of us, assumed he would come straight back into the side when fit but then none of us foresaw the improvement in Kyle Bartley’s performances or the impact that Semi Ajayi would make. When coupled with Hegazi’s below par substitute appearances, it is no surprise that there is no clamour to see the Egyptian returned to the starting line up.

Ironically enough, Hegazi’s omission from the squad coincided with what would have been an opportunity to stake a claim. However, Bartley’s injury led to academy product, Dara O’Shea, getting the opportunity to demonstrate his ability as he made his league debut for the club. The young Irishman didn’t put a foot wrong and has certainly put himself firmly in the conversation and, let’s not forget, it was not as if it was an easy situation with the game poised at 1-1 and both sides looking for the victory.

The bid from Al-Ittihad has apparently not yet been submitted, but it is understood that they value Hegazi in the region of £3m. That is unlikely to be enough for Albion to consider selling him unless there is a complete breakdown in relations. They would still need to replace him, and a centre back of the Egyptian’s ability and experience would cost a lot more, particularly in January.

It is a potentially difficult situation for Bilić, and it needs to be dealt with quickly. All the indications emerging from the squad are of a harmonious and happy group all pulling in the same direction – the Croat has been able to develop and maintain that positive vibe and this is, perhaps, the first real threat to it. It is essential to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible.

Picture: Laurie Rampling

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