Ferreira works his magic as Zamalek win unlikely league title

Hatem Maher , Tuesday 23 Aug 2022

When Jesualdo Ferreira was brought in for a second stint in charge of Zamalek in March, his mission was to rescue a faltering season that looked to be unraveling.

Jesualdo Ferreira
Zamalek's coach Jesualdo Ferreira waves to fans during training. Photo: Zamalek's facebook account.


Never in the wildest dreams of Zamalek's supporters did they imagine that, five months later, the team would be crowned Egyptian Premier League champions for a second straight season, especially given the stuttering start they made under the veteran Portuguese coach.

Although his first match in charge ended in a disappointing 1-0 home loss to Morocco's Wydad, which all but ended their hopes of progressing beyond the African Champions League group stage, Ferreira struck a defiant tone.

"We must solve the problems and everyone should stand together because there is a league and a cup that we want to win, and we also want to play in the Champions League next year," he said.

In the Premier League, back-to-back defeats by Enppi and Talae El-Geish in May dampened hopes that Zamalek could mount a serious challenge for the trophy. By then, it was Ahly's title to lose.

Ahly, Zamalek's perennial Cairo rivals, had a chance to pull four points clear on top if they won their rescheduled games. Zamalek also appeared porous at the back, with a high backline scheme introduced by Ferreira backfiring badly.

It was time for change and Ferreira, who had the backing of Zamalek's ardent fan groups given his past successes at the helm, duly delivered.

Realizing that something was wrong, he switched to a conservative 3-4-3 formation that he had never been a fan of. He promoted several young players to fill the gaps left by a costly transfer ban imposed by world governing body FIFA.

While he turned to the academy for fresh blood, he also had to contend with the absence of some key players, who infuriated the club by engaging in protracted negotiations to extend their deals before they expire at the end of the season.

Zamalek's board took a bold decision to end talks with the likes of midfield linchpin Tarek Hamed and goalkeeper Mohamed Abou-Gabal, saying the players were not serious enough to prolong their stay.

The absences posed a fresh selection dilemma for Ferreira but he remained as composed as ever, weaving his magic wand to steady the ship against all the odds.  

Turning point

Mohamed Awad, Abou-Gabal's understudy, rose to the occasion with a series of superb displays and natural central defender Mohamed Abdel-Ghani admirably filled Hamed's boots in the heart of midfield.

Ferreira also built his new team around Ahmed Zizo, Zamalek's ever-reliable winger who sits on top of the league's scoring chart with 19 goals.

Hossam Abdel-Maguid, one of the youngsters who were called upon, proved rock-solid at the back and Tunisian forward Seifeddine Jaziri enjoyed a new lease of life, with Ferreira making full use of his speed.

Upon instructions from Ferreira, who is fondly called "grandpa" by Zamalek's supporters, Jaziri ran at spaces between the lines to latch onto upfield passes and finish off sweeping moves.

A make-or-break encounter against Ahly in June then proved a turning point.

Ahly raced into an early lead as Zamalek appeared lost. They wasted another chance to double their advantage and looked to be cruising to a win that would give them a chance to go seven points clear on top and effectively kill off the title hopes of their nemesis.

However, Zamalek ensured they would remain in the race with a superb second-half display, turning the match on its head with goals from Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki, their primary source of creativity, and veteran schemer Mahmoud Shikabala.

Although Ahly eventually scored a late leveler to secure a share of spoils with a 2-2 draw, Zamalek took heart from a spirited comeback and never looked back.

They embarked on a 10-match winning run with a well-structured and efficient brand of football, with challengers Ahly and Pyramids FC unable to keep pace.

At one point, even though Zamalek were still on a winning mode, Ferreira sensed that not all was right.

"We are the reigning champions, but it seems some players have forgotten that. The players' display should reflect their status as the champions," the canny coach said following a 1-0 win over Arab Contractors in July, calling for more belief.

The players heeded his call in the best possible way to make it back-to-back triumphs for the first time since 2004.

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