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For the 74: Al Ahly are the miracle of Africa
Al Ahly extended their record of winning the CAF Champions League to eight. An unbelievable feat that only Ahly fans can feel quite normal and nonchalant about after beating South African side Orlando Pirates 2-0 in the Arab Contractors Stadium on Sunday.
The fans, the players, the stadium was emphatic. It was a hell of day for Al Ahly fans, and a great weekend for Egyptian fans as a whole as the Reds followed the White Knights’ feat of winning their first trophy since 2008 on Saturday, by winning the African trophy on Sunday. The tactics of the game were dependent on the physical prowess of the Egyptian midfield to counter Orlando’s powerful figured core, along with the dependence on Mohamed Abou-Treika to provide the necessary support to the attacking wingers and Ahmed Abdel-Zaher. The game proved to be a powerful reminder that Al Ahly are still class, still formidable and are still to be reckoned with despite not having a regular Egyptian football season for the last two years – which coincidentally are the years in which Al Ahly reaffirmed its status as an African club in a league of its own with two consecutive Champions League titles, taking their tally to a jaw-dropping eight – six of which were won since the beginning of the 2000s.
The game was a torrid affair in the first half. Treika and Fathi proved to be instrumental in recovering the balls being lost by a shy Walid Soliman and a visibly out of form Abdullah El-Said. Orlando’s wingers were put on a lot of pressure as Treika proved a handful to immobilise as he drifted time and time again through direct running on the outskirts of the penalty area, and in one case almost managed to surpass two defenders with three ball feints. Sherif Abdel-Fadil continued to capitalise on his previous match’s powerful performance and provided depth on the right while Sayed Moawad continued to rally his case for taking the left back position with a powerful spirited display. The second half display proved Ahly’s experience in handling the pressures of the final, and two follow-through finishes gave Al Ahly the pedestal to raise their class over all other competitors. The game was an incredible feat for Al Ahly’s policy of continuation and trust in its staff which severely contradicts the positions of the numerous Zamalek administrations that came into office and failed to reclaim the Whites’ status as an Egyptian and African giant, while Al Ahly continued to smash the continent’s Champions League record – which was not long ago held by 5-time holders Zamalek.
1- Stable board: The board has always been at an equidistant position with the team. There is no interference with the work of the staff and players, and there was no control over what the players can say or do outside the football field. It doesn’t matter if the manager was an Egyptian or a foreigner, there is a sort of specialization of duties assigned to each member of the staff and football is always left to the football director and not to a board member. The choices of football directors was also key, as “son-of-the-club” Hady Khashaba and Sayed Abdel-Hafiz are known for their manners, and calm personalities which enabled the club to handle any delicate situation without any knee-jerk reactions.
2- Stable Management: Al Ahly have played with a 4-man and a 3-man defense, with a lone striker or with two strikers over the past 10 years, but the ethics were the same. Ball movement and player positioning were the focus. The players always had an assigned task and they were not to over stretch their duties. This has been the continuing trend and the philosophy of calm and collected football designed by Manuel Jose which has followed through to his assistant Hossam El-Badry, whose assistant Mohamed Youssef took control after Badry left for Libya. There is a continuation of a philosophy and therefore less friction between the players as they already understand each other.
3- Stable group of players: Al Ahly usually buy in bulks and then gets rid of anyone who doesn’t perform that well enough to meet the jersey bearer’s demanding aims. The reality though is that Al Ahly has had a stable core group of players that have been loyal servants for a long time. Wael Gomaa since 2001, Treika since 2004, Emad Meteb since he was in the youth squad, Hossam Ghaly over the course of two stints, Ahmed Fathi since 2007, and Hossam Ashour since he was also in the youth squad. These players, supplemented with the best players Al Ahly could manage to lure away from other clubs gave the team an edge over any competition, locally or in Africa.
There is a stable way of play, stable philosophy and a stable group of players which helps minimize tactical shocks, irregularities and periods of transitions in the team. In doing so the club has created a team of formidable and respectable pedigree over domestic and continental competition. An African record of reaching the FIFA Club World Cup for the 5th time, achieving third place in one of the participations.
However, one of those loyal servants will leave by the end of the year pending a surprise. Abou-Treika, Egypt’s legendary trequartista, holder of the most individual, international and continental titles with club and country in the history of Egyptian football announced he will retire after practically failing to reach the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
It was a tearful and fitting end to Treika’s final match for Al Ahly in Cairo, only missing the allure and aura of Cairo Stadium. Scoring and running to the Curva Nord and remembering those lost in Port Said as he wore the number 72 on his shirt during trophy celebrations. Mohamed Mohamed Mohamed Abou-Treika insured that he will never be forgotten by the Egyptian fans, and Ultras Ahlawy in particular.
From my seat here, and having the pleasure to have gotten to reach the stadium to watch him play his final Cairo game (but missing out on being in the Curva Nord itself), Mohamed Abou-Treika, I salute you.
Karim Abdoun is an avid Egyptian football fan and blogger. For more of his work you can visit his blog.