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A True Ahlawy: Farewell Sebastião Gilberto
Karim Abdel-Jawad pays tribute to one of Al Ahly’s most successful foreign players in history, Gilberto, following the Angolan’s retirement from football.
At the age of 33 the Angolan Cheetah, Sebastião Gilberto, has decided to hang up his boots and put his playing days behind him. The Angolan has a special place in the hearts of the Al Ahly fans; not only for the key crosses he’s made along the years, but also for the winger’s unconditional love for the club and their fans.
Gilberto began his career playing for the Angolan side Petro Altético. He was promoted to the first team at the age of 17 and helped the side win back to back league titles in 2000 and 2001. In addition, he also won the domestic cup in 2000. The Angolan’s performances for Petro Altético earned him a moved to the ‘African Club of the Century’, Al Ahly.
The Angolan spent eight years at Al Ahly. Despite spending around two full seasons in total on the sidelines due to injury, Gilberto ended up turning out for Reds a mighty 167 times. 107 appearances in the domestic league, 15 games in the domestic cup, 35 games in the CAF Champions League, plus he played four times in the CAF Super Cup, four times in the Egyptian Super Cup and twice in the FIFA Club World Cup. During his time he was crowned 21 times, both domestically and continentally.
Gilberto only scored 6 goals playing for the Reds but he it wasn’t the goals he was loved and famed for, it was his assists that made him be adored by the fans. The Cheetah provided vital assists for the club both in domestic competitions and in continental ones. Gilberto’s assists twice took Al Ahly to the final of the CAF Champions League when he provided a right-footed cross to Emad Meteb to score the winner against Al-Ittihad Tripoli in 2007. One year later, Gilberto combined with his Angolan counterpart, Flavio, when he crossed in a corner on the near post that found Flavio’s head to lead Al Ahly to the final of the CAF Champions League once again.
In the 2008-2009 Egyptian Premier League season, Al Ahly faced stern competition from Ismaily during the league. The Gilberto-Flavio partnership flourished that year, with Gilberto providing Flavio with some crucial crosses to ensure that Al Ahly won the league. One of the most crucial assists came when Al Ahly were looking for a winner in the final minutes of the game against Arab Contractors. Gilberto sent in a low cross from a free-kick that found Flavio’s head, once again. In the playoff game against Ismaily, Gilberto and Flavio combined very similarly to the way they did against the Contractors and Al Ahly were crowned champions.
In the Cairo derby, Gilberto always played a crucial role. He provided an assist for Flavio in the only goal of the game in the 2008 derby in the CAF Champions League group stages. In a famous 4-2 victory over Zamalek, Gilberto provided the second and fourth goals for Abou-Trika and Meteb respectively. He also scored the third goal of the game from the spot.
In 2009, Al Ahly played CS Sfaxien in the CAF Super Cup, in what was a replay of the famous CAF Champions League final of 2006. Gilberto found Flavio’s head twice which secured the cup for the Cairo giants in a 2-1 victory over their North African rivals.
Al Ahly fans loved Gilberto not only for his vital crosses, but also for his love for the club. In 2010, Al Ahly needed to overturn a 2-0 defeat against Libya’s Ittihad. The first half ended in a goalless draw and Gilberto was warming up behind the goal, but he was also acting as a ball boy collecting the ball and putting it on the corner spot for Al Ahly or on the six-yard box for a goal-kick to avoid wasting any precious time. The Red Devils ended up winning 3-0 thanks to Shehab Ahmed scoring from long range with the last kick of the game three minutes into stoppage time. It was Gilberto’s final year at the club before he embarked on a short journey in Europe, starting with Lierse SK of Belgium.
After the Port Said massacre of 2012, Gilberto was in a state of depression and could not endure what had happened; despite no longer being with the club. He did not play for three consecutive games for his club at the time (AEL Limassol of Cyprus) because of what had happened. When Gilberto, along with Flávio, traveled to Cairo two years later with Petro Altético for their crucial CAF Confederation Cup round of 16 tie against Ismaily, Al Ahly fans welcomed the duo upon their team’s arrival at the airport.
The love Gilberto had for Al Ahly was mutual. Just a few months ago the club had posted a ‘We hope you get well soon’ message to their former player after he collapsed on the pitch while featuring for Sport Luanda e Benfica during a league match; he reportedly suffered from a concussion, had difficulty breathing and temporary memory loss. The unfortunate incident could have very well influenced his decision to hang up his boots just a few months later.
The Angolan has already made it clear that it would be a ‘dream’ for him to return to his ‘home’ and work within Al Ahly in the near future. Currently, one thing is certain: Gilberto was (and remains) a true Ahlawi. He will always be remembered in the hearts of the fans.