Just three months after he signed a new contract, South African coach Pitso Mosimane left Egypt’s Ahly on Monday, bringing to a premature end his tenure as the sole Sub-Saharan coach in the club’s storied history.
A statement said that the club was keen for Mosimane to continue with Ahly but that he had requested to leave the club.
Mosimane, 57, joined Ahly in 2020, having an instant impact, leading the red shirts to two Champions League crowns and one league victory. He also led the team to two consecutive FIFA Club World Cup bronze medals and two CAF Super Cup victories, in addition to an Egypt Cup and an Egyptian Super Cup.
In hiring Mosimane, the club broke with tradition of acquiring mainly Egyptian and European bosses, deciding instead to take a huge chance by bringing an African for the top team job. It was a bold experiment, based partially on the 5-1 rout inflicted upon Ahly by South Africa’s Mamelode Sundowns, then coached by Mosimane, in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Champions League.
Despite his early triumphs, those 21 months in which Mosimane led the Red Devils to 65 victories, 22 draws, and only 10 defeats, seemed to count for naught as he came under fierce criticism, first for losing the league title last season to crosstown arch-rivals Zamalek following a seven-year headlock on the tournament, followed by the recent loss in the final of the Champions League to Wydad of Morocco.
Even though Mosimane had just renewed his contract in March until 2024, there was writing on the wall that something was amiss. Before his announcement, Mosimane had missed a local cup match and a morning training. He also stayed behind in Morocco, some say dawdled, to take part in a training workshop, before meeting Ahly’s administration upon his return.
His relationship with Egyptian journalists became increasingly frayed, his duels with reporters in post-match live press conferences dripping with sarcastic answers and many times ending in fiery confrontations, especially after Ahly tied or lost. He was also a sore loser, rarely applauding an opposing team that played better than his. His usual excuses for a poor performance, injuries and fatigue, became tired refrains.
Towards the end, he had some strong words for social media which he blamed for adding undue pressure to his job, even though with a team as vaunted as Ahly which does not take kindly to a loss of any kind, pressure is the club’s middle name.
In their 115 years, Ahly have had some 50 coaches, the high turnover rate because this is a club in which second best is simply not good enough. In the first few decades, Ahly appointed mostly Egyptians at the helm but later went fishing abroad, leaning towards Germans.
Some of their standout bosses have included Nándor Hidegkuti, a key member of the Hungarian national team in the 1950s, known as the Golden Team which had the likes of Ferenc Puskas.
Don Revie, a former England manager, was also at the helm. Portugal’s Manuel Jose was the club’s most successful boss, winning four Champions League crowns, a continental record.
Ahly are one of the most successful clubs in the world based on total trophies won. They have among a ton of silverware 42 league titles and 37 cups. They had been hoping to extend their record Champions League titles to 11 before they fell to Wydad. They are the most successful football club in African history, voted the African club of the 20th century.
In a farewell message, Mosimane gave no reasons for his departure but confirmed he was leaving by mutual consent and thanked the board for the trust they invested in him, listing how much he had delivered to the club.
“Being the coach of the biggest club on the continent has been a dream of mine that has come true and I will forever be grateful,” Mosimane wrote. He also thanked Ahly’s “70-million strong supporters that have stood by me throughout this journey”.
Sami Komsan, a former star player and an assistant to Mosimane, will be the caretaker coach until the hiring of a new manager.
A version of this article appears in print in the 16 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.