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Al Ahly’s “Transitional” Phase — And How to Escape It
With most football clubs, the term “transition” is typically used when the club is not expected to win anything in that given season. It means the club is trying to identify the players with the greatest potential, and is working on tactics, formations and chemistry for success the following season. With most clubs, this transition might provide the manager with a buffer year to adjust to his new job. At Al Ahly however, the manager has a few months, if not weeks, to transition the team to success.
Welcome to perhaps the most demanding club in the world, with the most demanding fans in the world. It doesn’t matter who you are as a manager; you are expected to bring in silverware, and not just something small, or else you might not win over the fans, especially after Manuel Jose spoiled Ahly fans by bringing in trophy after trophy in his time with the club!
Mohamed Youssef is the latest example of Hassan Hamdy’s safe, in-house approach to selecting Al Ahly’s managers, an approach that has been implemented since Manuel Jose left in 2009. The positives of this approach of selecting existing staff members is that it helps maintain team cohesion and tactical focus without a sudden change of routines and systems.
Unfortunately, the problem is that, like El-Badry in his first appointment, Youssef is new at this. Youssef has never managed a Premier League level club, and to take on the most demanding club and fans on the continent is a big task, one that he is currently struggling with. In his tenure, Youssef oversaw the club’s disastrous run in the FIFA Club World Cup, and currently has the club in third in the domestic league standings with three losses and a draw in nine matches. That those three losses and the draw came in the last 5 matches adds significant pressure on the coach to deliver. So much so that it prompted the ultras to raise the banners below.
Which brings us to the title for this article, being that the club is in a “transitional” phase. This phrase was tossed round when El-Badry had just resigned after a loss to Ismaily (his first loss in the league) away in the beginning of the league competition in 2010 and Abd El Aziz Abd El Shafi took over. In his interim time, he managed to regroup the players and brought up a future star in Rami Rabia. Then came Manuel Jose for another successful stint in the club. In that season, Al Ahly managed to overcome the odds and became champions once again. This is the power of the club, and the demand of the fans.
So what should Mohamed Youssef do? What are the group of players that he should be seeking to keep and seeking to axe, especially as he has already lost Mohamed Abou-Treika?
One of Al Ahly’s biggest issues right now is defense. In the middle of defense, Mohamed Naguib has his lapses, Saad El-Din Samir is still developing, Sherif Abdel-Fadil should not be relied on heavily, while Wael Gomaa is not getting any younger. On the flanks, Sayed Moawad and Ahmed Shedid are still not showing the quality needed to be undisputed starters, and Al Ahly fans are hoping that Sabri Raheel is an improvement. As for the right, Fathi is still undisputed, with no real other alternative except for Sherif Abdel-Fadil, aside from Ahmed Nabil “Manga” who plays as a makeshift right-back when needed.
In midfield, Ahmed Khairy is still out injured, Hossam Ashour undisputed and Moussa Yedan untested. Mahmoud “Trezeguet” is slowly progressing to becoming a potential star, while Walid Soliman is out injured from being forced to play with a bad knee in the Club World Cup. Ahmed Shokry is not performing as good as he once had potential to be, leaving Abdallah El-Said to play as the team’s creative playmaker/star player, a role which is not suited to playing, as he is more of a supporting striker/attacking midfielder.
In attack, Emad Meteb’s chronic muscle injuries & problems continue to frustrate Al Ahly fans to no end. Mohamed Nagy “Gedo” still needs to refocus, while Ahmed Raouf and El-Sayed Hamdy are random at best and terrible at worst. Amr Gamal is a promising youngster with good returns so far. In the midst of all the injuries, the young upstarts and the aging squad members, Youssef needs to find the winning combination with tactics and strategies that work over the course of the season, and judging by the last few matches, he might not be getting it right at all.
The African Super Cup against CS Sfaxien was a big test and had Al Ahly lost, Youssef would have likely lost his job within 2 weeks of that game. However, the man is not out of the woods just yet. What should he do?
He should give more focus on tactical instructions as he was once previously quoted as not giving tactics that big of a consideration and diverting his attention towards fitness and stamina training due to the number of matches the team must play. Of course stamina & fitness are important, but the lack of team cohesion in the last five games has been clearly evident, and improved tactics might be one of the few ways to remedy this problem.
He needs to start finding a new heir to Wael Gomaa and develop Rabia as a central defender and a defensive midfielder. Abdallah El-Said needs to be played in his natural position while Al Ahly need to purchase or acquire a winger, a right-back and a powerful reliable forward.
The reliability of Ahly’s lines is low, and spirits were truly sinking before the African Super Cup. The win in the Super Cup has helped elevate, but not eliminate the team’s problems, no matter how much or how long you mention that Al Ahly is the most successful club in international competitions in the world. Youssef needs to act swiftly and strongly.
Karim Abdoun is an avid Egyptian football fan and blogger. For more of his work you can visit his blog.