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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

With only themselves to challenge, Ahly sweep to routine Egyptian league title

Hatem Maher , Tuesday 30 May 2017
Views: 3487
Views: 3487

When Hossam El-Badry took over at Ahly last summer, the club were in a state of disarray by their own high standards, losing to arch rivals Zamalek in the Egypt Cup final and waving goodbye to the African Champions League from the group stage.

Although they wrestled the Egyptian Premier League title from Zamalek, Dutch coach Martin Jol remained unpopular because the ever-demanding supporters hardly deem a season with only a league triumph as successful.

On one occasion, angry fans stormed a training session and forced its cancellation, chasing the players and prompting former Tottenham Hotspur boss Jol to hand in his resignation a few days later.

El-Badry took charge for a third spell despite concerns from the angry supporters, who cited his acrimonious departure in 2013 to manage Ahli Tripoli in Libya.

When the 57-year-old took up the reins, he had little room to make new signings but he proved adept in turning around the fortunes of the same crop which faltered towards the end of last season under Jol, guiding them to a 10th league title in 11 seasons with four matches to spare as Ahly maintained their domestic supremacy.

Solid defence

While Jol’s bold approach backfired on many occasions, El-Badry’s side was built on a watertight defence marshalled by central defender Saad Samir, who until the start of this season was largely a peripheral figure only called up to cover for injured teammates.

With the season of regular defensive duo Rami Rabia and Ahmed Hegazy punctuated by injuries, Samir seized his opportunity with both hands, excelling under the command of El-Badry, an Ahly defender in the 1980s.

Nicknamed after Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos for his late crucial goals, Samir netted four league goals, including a last-gasp winner in a hard-fought win over Smouha in December, and proved a defensive rock at the back.

“El-Badry asked me to advance in any free-kicks and score goals the Ramos way. He is fully aware of my aerial abilities,” Samir said following the victory over Smouha.

Ahly have only conceded nine goals in 30 matches, thanks to El-Badry's extra emphasis on tightening a defence that was repeatedly exposed on breakaways during the short tenure of Jol.

Despite their defensive solidity, the Red Devils struggled for efficiency upfront for long spells but once summer signing Junior Ajayi gelled into the team and January arrival Souleymane Coulibaly hit top gear, there was little to worry about.

Nigerian deep-lying forward Ajayi and Ivorian striker Coulibaly, top scorer at the 2011 U-17 World Cup, scored 14 goals between them to give Ahly a timely and much-needed firepower.

Ahly might have lost much of their creative force when Ramadan Sobhi left last summer to join Stoke City in the English Premier League, but experienced playmaker Abdallah El-Said rose to the occasion by scoring 10 goals and providing eight assists to sweeten the pill following the teenager's departure.

The club also benefited from Zamalek's stuttering form and several backroom reshuffles, with Maqassa only timidly challenging them for the title.

With another league triumph in the bag, El-Badry's focus will firmly be on delivering Ahly's first Champions League crown since they won the last of their record eight titles in 2013.

Otherwise, he could face a similar fate to Jol's.

"The African Champions League is a priority, as the team won it last time in 2013, the Egypt Cup is also important, but it takes third place in our list of priorities. Now we are fully concentrated on achieving our aims," El-Badry said last month.

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