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Was Pitso Mosimane forced out of Al Ahly?

The club president fully supported the South African coach, but was it enough when fans, former players and the media constantly antagonised Mosimane?
Thu, Jun 16, 2022

When colleague and veteran sportswriter Matshelane Mamabolo broke the story that Pitso ‘Jingles’ Mosimane resigned from Mamelodi Sundowns and was on his way to African giants Al Ahly, the story shook the entire football fraternity and changed the landscape of the game in the continent. It was a right royal scoop.

A black, sub-Saharan Africa coach managing the CAF Club of the Century was just too surreal. The 70 million Al Ahly supporters were not ready for such. The entire Arab world too, it seemed, was also not ready for such a life-changing occurrence. It was a bolt from the blue.

The Al Ahly president Mahmoud ‘Captain Bibo’ El-Khatib is a likeable chap who seems adventurous and is one to try out new things – even if it makes people unhappy and uncomfortable. In Mosimane, he saw a change that would endear the Southern African population to the club.

El-Khatib romanticised the thought that the world is a changing place, and that his people could buy into that dream. It was exotic and it was exciting. The love story was not easily received and welcomed but he was not going to change his mind. He fought bitterly with his board and advisers before he was allowed to bring Mosimane on board.

“We had many candidates from Czech Republic and Argentina, but I suggested searching for a head coach who has much experience in Africa. We started thinking out of the box and Mosimane was among our top four candidates for the job,” El Khatib said on the club’s website at the time.

“Mosimane had the strongest resume as he is a very good coach and faced many challenges with the teams he coached. He was in charge of Mamelodi Sundowns for eight years and renewed his contract for another five years.  When we became sure that Mosimane suits us, I contacted him and he was happy with our offer, and his desire played a great role in the negotiations,” he added.

Mosimane took over from Swiss coach, Rene Weiler, who had led Al Ahly to the Egyptian League title as well as a CAF Champions League semi-final berth, but would not commit to a longer contract with the club.

And it may have not been in the scale of when David Beckham sold out Real Madrid jerseys when he joined the Galacticos in 2003 – but all of a sudden, the red Al Ahly jerseys were now a common feature in the SA sporting circles. Mosimane went on a drive, called #PitsoWaLeboga and presented framed Al Ahly jerseys to influential people in the country such as Kaizer Motaung, Danny Jordaan, John Comitis, Tim Sukazi, Sandile Zungu, Proteas captain Temba Bavuma, Shauwn ‘MaMkhize’ Mkhize and his mentor Jomo Sono.

According to Jingles, the bearing of gifts was a gesture of thanks to those who had an impact on his career and to SA football in general. It was something that had never been seen before and to echoe the late Hip Hop Pantsula – Pitso made Al Ahly fashionable in Mzansi! For your information, Real Madrid made $24.5 million through Beckham jersey sales when he joined the side in 2003.

The former Jomo Cosmos midfielder continued with the culture of Al Ahly, winning more trophies. In the 97 matches that he oversaw, he won 65, drew 22 and lost just 10. And in the club’s glistening trophy cabinet, he added two CAF Champions League titles, the Egyptian Cup, two CAF Super Cups and a Fifa Club World Cup bronze. But the politics of North Africa reared their ugly heads, and it did not matter if he was the hardest working coach the African game has ever seen – on or off the pitch.

The impressive record did not mean much to some of the fans and the club’s legends and former players who made Mosimane’s stay in Cairo a nightmare. Even some sections of the media made it a point to disrespect Mosimane, to a point where he threatened to storm out of post-match conferences on numerous occasions.

“Should we end the press conference? I came here to talk, so why interrupt me? If you want to speak instead of me, I do not mind,” Pitso defended his player and told a journalist after the Red Devils had scored an important 3-2 win against El Entag El Harby last year. This was one of many clashes with the media which unfairly criticised the SA coach.

The fans were also not content and cried that the quality of the team had declined and that Mosimane played his favourite players while the true stars were kept on the bench.

Al Ahly’s retired former stars Wael Gomaa and Taha Ismail repeatedly criticised Mosimane and the latter went as far as saying that he was not good enough to coach Al Ahly and that the team was not as powerful as it used to be before him.

True to himself, Mosimane gave them a piece of his mind and put them in their places from day one. But even the strongest of people eventually lose their mojo when the feeling of being unwanted persists.

I understand that losing the domestic league titles twice in a row to rivals Zamalek and the recent Champions League to Wydad Casablanca may have contributed to the board wanting to pull the trigger, but any self-respecting club would not have dismissed a coach with such a glossy record over petty and trivial politics.

Captain Bibo wanted him to stay, Pitso wanted to stay, but the social order just did not want him at the club. The thought of having a coach from sub-Saharan Africa was just too difficult to stomach and to accept – and that’s the actual truth.