EDITORIAL: Pitso reaches for the stars
Former Sundowns coach now with Al Ahly is rocketing into unexplored reaches of the football universe with his early success in Egypt
Pitso Mosimane aimed for the stratosphere by joining Al Ahly from Mamelodi Sundowns and, in just two months in Cairo, his rocket has reached orbit.
Mosimane added to his 2016 Caf Champions League victory with Sundowns — the first for a local club since Orlando Pirates about a quarter of a century ago — as Al Ahly beat Cairo rivals Zamalek in Saturday’s all-Egyptian final.
Mosimane’s latest achievement has carried him further into unexplored reaches of the football universe from the country of his roots, which has been left to view him simply as a shooting star and a figure of awe.
He became just the third coach to lift the Champions League trophy with two different clubs, and the seventh to win it twice. Since the early postapartheid years when Pirates’ victory was followed by Clive Barker leading Bafana Bafana to continental glory in 1996, SA hasn’t exactly been a football superpower.
Now there can be no doubt that the country has at least produced a legendary African coach. Djamel Belmadi, the 44-year-old who won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria, and Aliou Cisse, coach of the other finalists, Senegal, are others named among Africa’s home-grown emerging super-coaches.
Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard’s two Nations Cups, won with Zambia and Ivory Coast, keeps his name in mythical territory. Florent Ibenge, Milutin Sredojevic and Patrice Carteron are also regarded as among the continent’s ace managers.
This is the exclusive company former SuperSport United and Bafana Bafana coach Mosimane now keeps.
Of course it should be noted that “Jingles” took over Al Ahly at the semifinal stage of the Champions League, and the Egyptian Premier League trophy he just lifted had been wrapped up already under Swiss predecessor Rene Weiler.
But there were reasons — good ones — why Al Ahly specifically headhunted Mosimane, even though he had renewed his contract at Sundowns earlier in 2020.
And the coach’s immense bravery — many predicted impending doom soon on such a big stage at a club with some of the most fanatical supporters in the world — is what has been rewarded with this early success.
The management of 113-year-old Al Ahly seldom make mistakes with the coaches they choose. That is why they remain Africa’s most successful club.
Mosimane cannot be a slouch for having suffered no league and cup defeats, just one draw, and producing seven victories to end 2019-20 in style. The 5-1 aggregate scoreline, displaying devastating pace in attack to dismantle arguably the continent’s best club of the last half-decade, Wydad Casablanca, in the semifinals put Mosimane on firmer ground.
In the final against Zamalek it was Al Ahly’s organisation and tactical game management that helped them withstand a typhoon from their rivals and produce Mohamed Magdy’s magnificent 86th-minute winner, seeing the club extend their record to nine tournament victories.
It was both the skilful attack reminiscent of Barcelona at their height 10 years ago, and similar levels of organisation, that Mosimane’s Sundowns displayed that made Al Ahly pick him. In five years of progressing to the Champions League group and knockout stages, the coach had steered Downs to a 3-1 aggregate defeat of Zamalek in the 2016 final, gone toe to toe in epic clashes with Wydad, and engineered 2020’s record 5-0 humiliation of Al Ahly.
There was a time when one would travel in Egypt and, on hearing you were from SA, the standard response would be “ah, Mandela”. Lately it has been “ah, Sundowns”. So it was no wonder Mosimane’s arrival was met with packed press conferences and a social media storm.
There is a long road ahead now for the coach to preserve his initial success. He has a language to learn and an insanely expectant public, fans and media to satisfy.
Nothing is guaranteed in football, especially in the toughest league in Africa. What is guaranteed for SA though is that Pitso Mosimane has left the building.
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