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CAF Champions League: Mosimane's Ahly legacy must transcend trophies if he is to stand out

Mon, 19 Jul 2021 Source: goal.com

Saturday night’s Caf Champions League final afforded Pitso Mosimane yet another opportunity to corral a slice of African football history.

The 56-year-old has, among a few other things, become the fifth coach to retain the Caf Champions League title and the second in Al Ahly history, having become only the third man to win it with two different clubs when his side beat SC Zamalek in last year's final.

This year’s challenger Kaizer Chiefs presented an altogether different challenge, as well as an interesting wrinkle: Mosimane only won five (and lost eight) of 18 meetings in all competitions against Amakhosi in his eight years in charge at Mamelodi Sundowns.

However, Ahly have only lost once in the competition this term, and lived up to their favourites tag with a strong performance - and a 3-0 victory - against the first-time finalists from South Africa.

By any measure then, Mosimane has been a roaring success in Egypt, vindicating the club’s gamble in bringing him over from Sundowns.

Pitso Mosimane of Mamelodi Sundowns

Such a radical departure in terms of coaching appointment (the South African is the first non-Egyptian African manager the club have ever appointed) was always going to heap the pressure on right away, but if it has made the task of leading Ahly particularly difficult, the former Bafana coach has worn that added strain remarkably well.

Of course, considering the history, financial muscle and government patronage Ahly enjoy, competing for (and winning) the biggest trophies on offer is not just expected, but an imperative on which the coach’s job security hinges.

That fact is handily illustrated by the fact that only three other men have held the position beyond 50 matches since the turn of the millennium; to whom much is given, much is demanded. “As a head coach at Al Ahly, if you do not win the Caf Champions League and the domestic league, you have to look for another place immediately,” Mosimane recently observed, matter-of-factly.

There is a paradox at play when it comes to managing at a big club like Ahly.

By virtue of their sheer size, success is at first expected, then comes to be taken almost for granted, and finally becomes somewhat underrated.

With so many advantages, the job the coach does to synthesize a working harmony can quickly lose some of its lustre, creating a false perception of ease from the outside.

Pep Guardiola Holger Badstuber Bayern Munich

This phenomenon was easily observable when Pep Guardiola managed Bayern Munich: so outsized and cartoonish was their dominance – which he helped create – in Germany that the very validity of the Spaniard’s work began to be questioned.

With such outrageous talent at his disposal, how could he (or indeed anyone else) not win?

Mosimane has thankfully not stayed long enough to wear out his goodwill just yet; besides, he already has the one trophy that Guardiola was unable to attain as a final riposte to the critics.

However, the situation is not altogether dissimilar. With such a deeply ingrained winning culture already in place at Ahly, just what is it then that would set the former Mamelodi Sundowns boss apart?

How long would it take for the casual, trophy-hoovering brilliance of his side to be held up as proof that any old coach could win with the same group? Trophies are always desirable, but familiarity can breed contempt and, ultimately, dissatisfaction. It is a bothersome shortcoming of success: not even it can outstrip the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.

Pitso Mosimane

Being an ambitious, intelligent manager, this will not be lost on Mosimane.

Even if he fulfils the destiny that awaits him on Saturday and claims a third African title, it grants a stay-of-execution at best.

Understanding this level of volatility then, perhaps his wider legacy will ultimately concern the imprint he leaves on Egyptian football as a whole and the national team in particular.

Ahly have always had a great influence on the composition of the Pharaohs – seven of the starting 11 for their 3-0 semi-final victory over Esperance were Egyptian internationals, and a further four came off the bench on the night.

Much like Guardiola’s spell at Bayern Munich led to a greater league-wide focus on control and patient possession, and directly contributed to Germany’s World Cup win in 2014, the impact of Mosimane’s Ahly stewardship may only become evident as his style leads an evolution of the national side.

Over the last decade, the Pharaohs have shed the bold attacking strategy that won three consecutive Africa Nations Cups and adopted a stealthier, more counter-based approach.

The results have been mixed-to-negative: they reached the final of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations playing utterly uninspiring football, and were unceremoniously dumped out on home soil by – ironically enough – South Africa in 2019.

Before those two, they failed to qualify altogether for three editions.

The seed for regaining a position of strength on the continent probably lies in the work Mosimane is undertaking with Ahly.

Under the South African, the nine-time African champions espouse a short-passing style, clean build-up play through the thirds and are aggressive in their use of width in attack, all tenets that the Pharaohs have largely abandoned in favour of sitting deep and seeking to exploit the pace of Mohamed Salah and Mahmoud Trezeguet on the break.

With so many of the Egypt squad at Ahly, the eventual fruit of Mosimane’s success could be changing the face of Egyptian football.

Source: goal.com