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Five legendary Arab football commentators

Known for their enthusiastic and sometimes poetic exclamations during matches, Middle East Eye looks at the voices of Arab footballing commentary
Omani commentator Khalil al-Balushi oversees the Qatar Stars League football match between Al-Gharafa and Al-Ahli  (AFP)
Omani commentator Khalil al-Balushi oversees the Qatar Stars League football match between Al-Gharafa and Al-Ahli (AFP)

The beautiful game is the most popular sport in the Arab world, a region where commentators add just as much life to proceedings as the players on the field.

In contrast to the often sober and impartial commentary English-speaking audiences are accustomed to, those who understand Arabic get an experience where commentators convey every ounce of their own passion, including exclamations of anger and howls of joy when things go the way they want.

Even to someone watching a football match with Arabic commentary without knowledge of the language itself, the sense of excitement is palpable. A man shouting the name "Salah" over and over again when the Liverpool striker scores is of course universally appreciable.

A search for "Arab commentary" on YouTube reveals a deep fascination with the genre, with dozens upon dozens of compilations demonstrating the Arab commentator in his element.

Here Middle East Eye gives a run-down of five particularly famous Arab commentators: 
 

1. Mahmoud Bakr, Egypt

The late Egyptian commentator died in 2016 but his memory is kept going with regular social media shares of his unique style of football punditry, which was notable for his sometimes ruthless critique of players' failures.

In one match he describes a player as “finally coming for the ball, after standing in the balcony smoking a cigarette". In another, a player with good on-the-ball skills is described as having an “electronic shoe”, while the slower players failing to stop him are patronised and called "katkout", which means baby chicks in the Egyptian dialect.

Bakr's understanding of the game was rooted in his own career as a footballer, playing for the Alexandrian Olympic Club, with whom he won the Egyptian Premier League in 1966. He also played for the Egyptian national team and was a member of the Egyptian Football Association. 

With over a decade of experience on the pitch, he later joined the Egyptian Television Network and private satellite channels becoming a sought-after commentator for his wit and football know-how.

Immune to criticism, Bakr's maverick style of commentary was often deemed inappropriate and insulting, crossing the line between criticism and offensiveness.

In one example, he described a player as making fouls that he described as "fallahi", Arabic for a peasant, which is pejoratively used to describe someone who is simple or backward. 

2.  Khaled al-Ghoul, Jordan

Al-Ghoul's voice is one of sheer exuberance - sometimes at the cost of making sense - resulting in a fascinating mix of bewilderment and excitement for those unfamiliar with Arabic commentary.

Case in point, the video below in which he shouts out birthday salutations to Wayne Rooney after a goal for Manchester United. The fact that it was not actually Rooney’s birthday, was no big issue for Ghoul.

Starting off his career as an editor for Jordan's al-Dustour newspaper, Ghoul moved on to work as a producer and then presenter for Jordan TV. 

He later covered matches across Europe, including in Italy's Serie A, before returning to the Middle East to work for Al Jazeera Sports and OSN Sports. 

3. Issam Chaouali,  Tunisia 

Arguably one of the most famous commentators from the region, Chaouali is known for his loud, elongated expressions, which arguably make an already tense match more dramatic.

Chaouali started his career working for Al-Shabab Radio in Tunisia before joining the beIN Sports network. His commentary is fast-paced and passionate. In a match between Real Madrid and Manchester City, he could be heard shouting and even screaming when Algerian star Riyad Mahrez scored a goal. 


 

Chaouali was chosen as one of the 100 most influential Arab personalities by Arabian Business in 2009 and 2010. 

He’s also won over 50 awards and honours during his career, with his rapid, joke-filled, and high-pitched commentary making headlines. Many TikTok videos have also been made about Chaouali’s commentary.

Over the years, much of his commentary has gone viral and has even made it into YouTube video compilations that have been translated into English.

4. Fahd Al-Otaibi, Saudi Arabia

If you’ve ever tuned into football on a Middle East-based channel, chances are you’ve heard al-Otaibi’s iconic and elongated cry of “goooooooooooal".

He’s been commentating on the biggest football tournaments since 2002, where he started his career with Saudi Arabia's KSA Sport before moving to Qatar-based beIN Sports and Al Kass when they later launched. 

Otaibi's voice has a tendency to give away his own team and player preferences. In one video, he can be heard screaming in elation at goals scored during the game, and sounding deflated when an opportunity is missed.

The renowned commentator has covered domestic and international tournaments around the globe, including English Premier League games, Champions League matches, and the World Cup. 

Known in the region as the “voice of football”, Otaibi’s commentary is full of emotion, at times sounding like he is almost in tears

Today, Otaibi is no longer a football commentator after he and several others left their jobs in Qatar during the 2017 blockade after being asked to return to Saudi Arabia. He now offers impassioned analysis of golf matches.

For those missing his intense football takedowns, Otaibi’s voice can still be heard in memes online and on the PlayStation game PES 2018

5. Raouf Ben Khalif, Tunisia 

Famous for his loud and enthusiastic commentary, Ben Khalif is known for engaging with fans regarding football on his Instagram account, which has more than 360,000 followers.

The commentator started his career in France where he was a correspondent for several French newspapers before working his way into a broadcast role at the Tunisia 7 satellite channel.

His career trajectory then saw him covering the Italian League for Al Jazeera, later becoming the lead commentator for beIN Sports. 

On Twitter, YouTube, and other social media outlets, his energetic exclamations sometimes go viral and he is most famous for his reactions to goals scored by Argentinian maestro Lionel Messi.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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