May the -numerous- thuriféraires of Gilbert Gress forgive us but a question calls: Neuchâtel Xamax has he not signed his best European achievement under the rule of another trainer?
On Tuesday 22 October 1991, Roy Hodgson led his eleven to a 5-1 success ahead of Celtic Glasgow in the first leg of the second round of the UEFA Cup. Faced with a team then led by Liam Brady who had never lost a European match on such a heavy score and which included in its ranks players of the caliber of Pat Bonner, Paul McStay, Tonny Cascarino and Charlie Nicholas, the Xamaxiens had the pleasure of counting on the evening of grace from its center.
Transferred three months earlier from PAOK Salonika, Hossam Hassan, then 25, was the great man of this meeting with his quadruple. The business relationships maintained at the time by President Gilbert Facchineti on Egyptian soil facilitated his arrival in Neuchâtel like that of his twin brother Ibrahim. The presence at the club for a year of another Egyptian, defender Hany Ramzy, was to facilitate their integration.
Egyptian indolence against German rigor
Top scorer of the Egypt team with his 69 successes in …. 169 selections, Hossam Hassan was yet to shine a month later. He scored the only goal in the first leg of the round of 16 against Real Madrid. But on December 11, the great adventure of the Xamaxians ended at the Santiago Bernabeu on a heavy 4-0 defeat precipitated by an unfortunate autogoal of Ibrahim Hassan in the 48th minute before the goals of Gheorghe Hagi, Michel and Sanchis.
Unable to express themselves in a language other than Arabic, the Hassan twins must have known a very difficult winter in the weeks following the confrontations against Celtic and Real. The ring road approved in January by Gilbert Facchinetti, who placed Roy Hodgson at the head of the national team and which allowed Uli Stielike to return to La Maladière, was to further complicate their task. Guilty of a late arrival during the resumption, Ibrahim and Hossam were never in the small papers of the new coach. As if the indolence of Egypt fitted very badly with Germanic rigor.
In the spring of 1992, the Hassan twins returned to the country where they enjoyed unlimited credit. With Hassan, however, the bright memory of this evening of grace against Celtic Glasgow. As for Roy Hodgson, this European journey gave him real legitimacy before taking the reins of the national team which he was to lead to the 1994 World Cup in the United States and to Euro 1996 in England.