Zamalek will need someone to continue steadying the ship after Jaime Pacheco, the Portuguese coach who oversaw a change of fortunes at the Cairo club, resigned in an acrimonious manner and ahead of some key Egyptian Premier League games.
Zamalek start life without the 56-year-old boss at home to Petrojet on Saturday, bearing in mind that any slip-up could prove costly if challengers ENPPI and Ahly win their respective matches on the same day.
Pacheco, who succeeded Egypt's all-time leading scorer Hossam Hassan after some disappointing results in the early stages of the season, led Zamalek to nine wins out of 11 league matches as the White Knights looked well-equipped to end their 10-year drought.
Zamalek officials were stunned to find out early Thursday that Pacheco has left the country amid reports linking him with a move to Saudi Arabia's Shabab, one day after saying in a television interview that he planned to stay at the club for long.
He repeatedly complained of the continued interference in team affairs by outspoken chairman Mortada Mansour, with whom he fell out following a 2-0 defeat by ENPPI in a top-of-the-table clash last month.
Under Pacheco, Zamalek's rigid defence was singled out for praise by local media as a partnership between Burkina Faso's Mohamed Koffi and Ali Gabr in the heart of a four-man backline stood out, with Zamalek having the joint best defensive record in the league after conceding eight goals in 15 matches.
In-form striker Bassem Morsi, one of a more than dozen close-season arrivals, also proved a reliable finisher upfront but Zamalek will have to cope with the departure of their top scorer Moemen Zakareya, an attacking midfielder who also stunned Zamalek after joining arch-rivals Ahly following the end of his loan spell from ENPPI.
The departure of Zakareya, who scored seven league goals, poses another challenge for Mohamed Salah, Pacheco's assistant who takes over on an interim basis and will lead Zamalek against Petrojet, who lie sixth in the 20-team table with 24 points.
Koffi will not also be available after joining up with Burkina Faso ahead of the African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, which kicks off on 17 January.
"Does not matter"
In a meeting with chairman Mansour, Zamalek players insisted they would not be affected by the saga surrounding Pacheco's resignation or Zakareya's departure.
"It doesn't matter for us if Pacheco or Zakareya left. We are fully focused on continuing our fine run to remain on top of the table," said skipper and pacy winger Hazem Emam.
"Sooner or later they all will be gone, but Zamalek SC will never die!" said Koffi, who has quickly become a fan favourite following a series of impressive displays characterized by some acrobatic defensive clearances.
Zamalek are one point ahead of nearest challengers ENPPI, who play Maqassa, almost halfway through the season.
Defending champions Ahly, who face Gouna in a Red Sea resort in an afternoon kick-off, are 10 points behind Zamalek but they still have three matches in hand.
Zamalek will be keen to bag as much points as they can from some crucial games, including a contest against Arab Contractors who are gradually improving under former Egypt coach Hassan Shehata and a Cairo derby against Ahly at the end of the month.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)