Pitso Mosimane could have hardly hoped for a better start to his Ahly reign, having quickly won over the team's demanding fans after delivering the long-awaited African Champions League title.
In less than five months following Mosimane's arrival as coach, Ahly won the coveted trophy for the first time since 2013 before clinching the Egypt Cup title.
They also replicated their best ever Club World Cup finish after winning the bronze medal in Qatar with a famous shootout victory over South American champions Palmeiras.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Daily newspaper, the 56-year-old tactician, who also led his former club Mamelodi Sundowns to a host of titles in a highly-successful eight-year tenure, said he can't yet rate himself at Ahly since he still aims to win more trophies and apply his vision with the club.
He also highlighted the challenge of guiding a team with tens of millions of supporters, saying he would strive to meet their expectations.
Al-Ahram Daily: How do you see Cairo and Egypt?
Pitso Mosimane: Each country is different from the other in terms of its culture, religious, food and football. People also differ from one place to another. Nothing is ideal, even in my country, but we have to adapt.
AD: Have you adapted to Cairo?
PM: Believe me, I am very happy here in Egypt for all the love and warm welcome I find, whether at Ahly club or on the few occasions in which I go out.
AD: How do you see Ahly?
Ahly is a very big team and it's not easy to be in charge of it. Ahly is a great place that has its own culture and big history. The team achieved many trophies and all what we do is just a contribution to its history.
Look to the number of stars on the team's shirt to know where are you and the size of the responsibilities on your shoulders, so I am trying to develop amid all these great successes to be here.
AD: Is there something different in Egyptian football?
PM: There are three teams that compete for the Premier League title: Zamalek and Pyramids FC along with Ahly, while the remaining teams also work hard for the same aim. Football in Egypt is very good in terms of competition.
AD: How did you see the big challenge of guiding Ahly when you were chosen to lead the team?
PM: I think it has now been proven that it was the right choice. It's a big experience to be in charge of a great team like Ahly and, for this entity to think about you in the first place, it is a wonderful thing. However, it also puts a big responsibility on your shoulders.
You can see what the African Champions League title means for Ahly fans, especially after seven years of absence, which included two appearances in the final. I thank (chairman) Mahmoud El-Khatib and his board for the confidence they have shown in me.
AD: Was it risky for you to end a long four-year deal with Mameldoi Sundowns and agree to Ahly's offer?
PM: We live only one life and I love calculated challenges. I spent eight years as coach of Sundowns, winning all possible trophies, including the South African league and cup several times as well as winning the African Champions League and playing at the Club World Cup. That's why I accepted Ahly's unrefusable offer.
AD: Do you see yourself as lucky or adventurous?
PM: I accept and love challenges. I set myself ambitions and strive to achieve them. I spent eight years with Sundowns and still had four years left on my contract, and I joined Ahly on a shorter deal.
AD: Are you satisfied with Ahly's performances after winning two trophies and claiming the FIFA Club World Cup bronze medal?
PM: Ahly is a big team like Barcelona and Real Madrid so it's normal to win the domestic league and cup. Ahly also won the African Champions League and Club World Cup bronze medal before so I didn't achieve something new till now, but I am working on improving our performances to reach the level that I aspire to.
This team made many achievements during the past great generations that included the likes of El-Khatib, Wael Gomaa and other players, along with great coaches such as Manuel Jose who I greatly respect; he is really wonderful.
This means that our goal must always be to go one better. We try to introduce the kind of modern football that the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Liverpool play.
AD: Can we watch Ahly play the kind of football we see with the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid?
PM: The performance is improving; you can see the difference between last season and the ongoing one, but the limited time we have and the fixtures pile-up make it difficult to play your own way.
AD: Some people believe that you make changes to Ahly's starting line-up too often …
PM: The main reasons for that are the injuries and coronavirus, so when the pandemic goes away we will see a stable lineup. We lost the services of five regular players ahead of the game against Sudan's Al-Merrikh including Ali Maaloul, Hussein El-Shahat, Ayman Ashraf, Taher Mohamed Taher and Salah Mohsen, while seven players tested positive for the coronavirus.
AD: How do rate your five months at Ahly?
PM: Although I didn't have enough time to have the players get used to my way, I played 24 or 25 games, drawing three and losing only once against Bayern Munich, so this shows what we had achieved so far.
We could have also won the three games we drew had it not been for some circumstances, but it's not logical that some blame me for the loss to Bayern Munich, who are the European champions and the best team in the world.
AD: Do you accept criticism?
PM: You have to accept criticism when you lead a big team with a big number of fans like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Flamengo and Ahly, or you don't deserve to be there.
Zinedine Zidane and Jürgen Klopp have been criticized despite winning the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League and I'm not in their level, and I mean what I'm saying.
I accept objective criticism and I make use of it to make some changes but it's not logical to listen to everyone around you because you will not have time to work in this case.
AD: You previously said you were going to the Club World Cup to compete for the title, how do you rate what you had achieved at the tournament?
PM:Ahly played in a very high international level. We played three games in nine days and we played with the champions of every continent, who have different styles. That was the best level you can experience and we achieved our target of winning the bronze medal.
AD: How do you respond to the people who said Ahly had lacked character against Bayern Munich?
PM: It's not possible to make everyone happy. We achieved our target by winning the bronze medal, that's all. Is it fair to expect me to beat Bayern Munich 3-0? Do I have Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane or am I Guardiola to do that? Just give me time to work and don't put pressure on the team.
We are the African champions and I am proud of representing the continent in the Club World Cup.
AD: What does Ahly need to win the FIFA Club World Cup title?
PM: Maybe a future generation will do that.
AD: Why can't the current generation win it?
PM: Why not! Everything is possible as the current generation won big titles, but how can that be evaluated in a team that has a cabinet laden with all possible trophies?
If we win the African and Egyptian Super Cups we will complete a five-trophy haul. In the future, other generations will try and replicate that and if they didn't, they will speak about us.
AD: What are the most notable gains from the Club World Cup?
PM: We made many technical gains as we played complex football, having faced teams with different styles. Brazilian teams are different from European champions Bayern, who are in turn different from Qatar's Al Duhail.
It's very difficult to make your team adapt to rapid tactical changes in only 48 hours in games against Al Duhail, Bayern and Palmeiras. It's easier said than done.
AD: Were Ahly unlucky to face Bayern Munich in the semifinal?
PM: Maybe we were unlucky, but it is the draw.
AD: How to you respond to the fans who want you to reproduce Sundowns' pretty brand of football at Ahly?
PM: It's difficult to compare both sides. Ahly enjoy a fan base of 70 million of supporters and look at the stars on the shirts of both teams. The numerous trophies Ahly won also leave us with a big challenge here.
I am trying to do my best with Ahly; we are not Bayern Munich as some might want us to be, but we work hard to realize our targets of winning titles. We all know that keeping your job as a manager of a big team is linked to the trophies you win.
AD: How do you see competition in the league?
PM: Competition in the Egyptian league this season is much more difficult than the previous one. Ahly used to win a lot, but it's now difficult especially with the dogged backlines that we face. Some teams play with ten men behind the ball.
AD: How do see Ahly fans' hopes of winning all trophies?
PM: I always prefer to set a top target for myself and I work hard to achieve it, just like the Ahly fans. We develop ourselves and do our best to reach our goals.
AD: Did you expect to win the African Champions League?
PM: I had mixed feelings for the first time. I was eliminated from the Champions League while in charge of Sundowns but I eventually won it with Ahly; it's the arrangement of God.
I won three trophies with Sundowns and did the same with Ahly in a single season. The achievement of winning this number of titles with two different teams in one season is hard to be repeated. I know that the season was stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it happened.
AD: How far you think your short Ahly spell has been successful?
PM: I haven't yet started; it has been only five months since I arrived. I need time to develop aspects of Ahly's game but we hardly have that luxury because of the fixture congestion.
AD: When do you think Ahly can play the kind of football that their fans would like to see?
PM: We will be in a better shape when the pandemic ends. We played the game against Al-Merrikh without five players who were regular starters at the Club World Cup.
AD: Will Ahly be able to retain the African Champions League title?
PM: I am here for this target. We will do our best but I can't promise that we are going to do that. We will fight for the title but there are other strong competitors such as Esperance, Wydad, Zamalek and TP Mazembe.
Can you predict the European Champions League winners? It's very difficult.
AD: What are the main negatives of Egyptian football?
PM: I don't prefer the word 'negatives', let's replace it with challenges.
I am working to apply my vision with the team and it's the biggest challenge, which needs time. There is a big pressure that comes with playing every four days. You have to win games while trying to apply your technical philosophy.
I had enough time with Sundowns to do what I wanted to do, so I need time. Jurgen Klopp won the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League in five years, and this is one of the big names in the world. We have to be patient.
AD: Do Ahly need new signings?
PM: Any team needs reinforcements but Ahly does not at the moment. We will see what happens at the end of the season.
AD: What does working with chairman Mahmoud El-Khatib represent to you?
PM: I have a great relationship El-Khatib. I wouldn't have been here if we didn't have that relation. It's good for the team that the chairman is a football legend.
AD: Who is the player you want to sign?
PM: I don't want to sign any players for Ahly now, but in the future we may need to sign Messi or Salah.
AD: What's your opinion about Salah?
PM: He is a special and distinguished player. He is not only a pride of Egypt, but also a pride of all Africa. I hope we can have another player with similar attributes at Ahly.
AD: How do you spend your time in Cairo?
PM: I don't have time as we play a game every four days, so I'm always working. My life is limited to my home and the club.
AD: How do see Ahly fans?
PM: I haven't seen fans who love their team to this extent. I played in Europe and I never saw that. Ahly fans are crazy about their team; I hope to live up to their expectations.
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