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From EPL to EPL, Ahly and Zamalek turn to foreign expertise yet again

Hatem Maher , Sunday 28 Feb 2016
Martin Jol and Alex McLeish
Premierleague.com File photo of a duel between Martin Jol (L, then coach of Fulham) and Alex McLeish (R, then coach of Aston Villa)
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Brief tenures under Egyptian coaches reinforced the belief of the country's leading clubs Ahly and Zamalek that things will only work out with managers from overseas.

The Cairo duo took an even bolder step by luring two former English Premier League managers to the Egyptian Premier League for the first time ever as they seek to bring their competition to the highest level.

Dutchman Martin Jol, former manager of Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham, took charge of Egypt's most popular club Ahly while Scottish Alex McLeish, former boss of Aston Villa and Birmingham City, took over at perennial rivals Zamalek in some of the most high-profile moves in Egyptian football history.

Big-name coaching signings have until recently been associated with wealthy Arab Gulf sides but Egypt's football fame in Africa appears to have given the country some leverage despite its chronic financial and administrative problems, with the arrival of former Valencia and Inter Milan coach Hector Cuper at the national team marking the start of a new trend.

"I've come to a very big club, not only in Africa but in the Middle East. They are used to being successful," former Scotland and Rangers coach McLeish said after being unveiled by Zamalek in a Saturday news conference.

"Technically, I believe the Egyptian players have great technique. Maybe the mentality and understanding of the tactical side of the game is something that I can help the team to go even further and have the success that everybody at the club wants."

No long-term success

In recent years, Ahly and Zamalek have occasionally put their trust in Egyptian coaches but found out that the prospects of long-term success are dim.

It’s always a promising start in an initial caretaker role that prompts the club to reward the coach with a permanent contract until cracks start to appear, leading to murmurs of discontent among Ahly and Zamalek’s demanding supporters.

Fathi Mabrouk helped Ahly win the Egyptian league title in 2014 after taking over on an interim basis but when he was named as a permanent boss little less than a year later following the sacking of Spaniard Juan Garrido, he could not rescue the faltering side’s season and they surrendered the domestic double to nemesis Zamalek.

This season, club icon Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Shafi ‘Zizo’ also took charge in a stop-gap mission in January following the abrupt departure of Portuguese Jose Peseiro and Ahly made a convincing start under his guidance, recording five straight wins including a 2-0 derby victory over Zamalek to go seven points clear at the top.

However, three subsequent draws helped Zamalek bridge the gap on the leaders to three points and Ahly swiftly reneged on their pledge to keep Zizo until the end of the season, bringing in Jol as a replacement.

Things were no different with Zamalek, who handed Mido the reins following the dismissal of Brazilian Marcos Paqueta early in January and the White Knights bagged maximum points from their first four games although their displays were lethargic and uninspiring.

But they were eventually given a reality check, going three matches without a win in a poor run that included the derby defeat by Ahly, which proved the final straw as Zamalek turned to McLeish to keep their league hopes alive.

“Our experience proved that a foreign coach is the best option for Ahly and Zamalek,” said Zamalek’s controversial chairman Mortada Mansour.

“Not only the best on the technical level, but also in his ability to handle pressure. When Zamalek score under [caretaker coach] Mohamed Salah, the fans cheer but they jeer once we concede.”

McLeish and Jol will lock horns once again in what promises to be an exciting part of the league season as the traditional two-horse league race reaches a climax.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of facing Martin Jol,” McLeish told Ahram Online on his way out of the Zamalek club following Saturday’s news conference.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
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