Another roll of the dice

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 13 Sep 2022

Cairo football giants Ahly have hired yet another coach to try to get their house in order, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani


A new coach has taken over the Ahly football club, the fourth in just this year of 2022, in the latest effort by the iconic Egyptian team to change their fortunes around.

The coach, Marcel Koller from Switzerland, is being tasked with turning the Ahly ship around after a year in which the club lost in the final of the African Champions League, failed to win the league title for the second season in a row and lost their grip on the national cup delayed from last year.

Considering that Ahly are the record 10-time winners of the Champions League, and have collected the most Egyptian league and cup wins of any compatriot team, this year has gone down as one of the worst in their history, an annus horribilis as the late queen Elizabeth once put it when describing her own disconcerting year of 1992.

Into this surprising string of defeats wades Koller, 61, who takes over from Portuguese Ricardo Soares who took over from the Egyptian Sami Komsan who took over from the South African Pitso Mosimane. This merry-go-round started turning as late as May.

Shortly after his arrival, Koller told a news conference in Cairo on Monday that he would be able to deal with congested domestic and continental fixtures that bedeviled his predecessors and which led to a rash of injuries among many players and drastic dips in form in others.

Not a household coaching name by any means, Koller is best known for lifting the national Austrian team, considered mediocre by international standards, to a high 10th in the world and took the country to the 2016 Euros for its first time. His club CV has included Swiss squads Grasshoppers and Basel.

Koller does come with some baggage other than his luggage. He has been out of a job since 2020 which might have created some rust that might require some oiling.

More importantly, this will be his first coaching job outside Europe and he has admitted that that could be troublesome. “My biggest challenge is working in a foreign country with a culture that differs from Europe,” he told the press conference.

This “culture” that differs from Europe views “work” as a four-letter word and, to say the least, is easy going, putting it mildly.

But Ahly’s fans, rumoured to be around 70 million in a country of 103 million, are anything but laid back when it comes to their football club. It is a storied franchise with an illustrious history which stresses success above all else and the capturing of every and any soccer prize under the sun. Nothing less will do.

Koller must have gotten wind of what Ahly supporters demand; in the press conference he spoke just like them. “I want to win the CAF Champions League title and all the local championships. My goal is to win everything with Ahly.”

How Koller will deal with this sort of pressure will be found out soon enough as the new season begins on 15 October. He also faces a two-legged clash against a yet-to-be-determined opponent in the African Champions League second preliminary round next month.

Koller will have five weeks to get to know his new club, a decent amount of time that neither Soares nor Komsan enjoyed.

Before Koller’s wish to win comes true he must, as he said, determine “what will happen with some players in the future regarding who would be released and who we would be signed”.

But he’s already facing headwinds caused by a signing he had nothing to do with: Ahly last week picked up Brazilian Bruno Savio for $1.5 million.

If Ahli’s intention was to strengthen their frontline ahead of the new season, they selected a player who has had stints with several Brazilian sides not heard of outside Brazil and who has netted a grand total of 33 goals in 141 appearances. And Savio, it must be added, is a forward.

Koller sure has his work cut out for him.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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