After weeks of speculation, it was finally over. Pitso Mosimane and Al-Ahly parted ways on Monday, just three months after the coach signed a two-year contract extension at the club.
It did not come as a major surprise, however, and it brings an end to what was a rollercoaster relationship. He had only been in charge of the Egyptian titans since September 2020 but it seemed longer because there was plenty packed into those 21 months. The South African can leave with his head held high while the Red Giants move onto a new era.
But just like his time at the club, his legacy will be hotly debated though, it should be secure as he flew the flag for African coaches at the continent’s biggest club.
Al-Ahly announced that they had wanted the coach to stay but it was Mosimane’s decision to exit. “Mosimane requested to leave and that he is satisfied with the achievements he managed to accomplish with the club,” the club said in a statement. “It was decided to approve his request to part ways with the club and to thank him for the achievements that he accomplished.”
Those achievements are impressive. The man known as “Jingles” delivered back-to-back CAF Champions League titles, winning in 2020 and then again in 2021. He also took the team to the final last month where Wydad AC ran out 2-0 winners, though the Moroccans did have home advantage and 50,000 screaming fans behind them.
He led the team to successive third-place finishes at the 2020 and 2021 FIFA Club World Cup. Mosimane’s major regret will surely be missing out on the 2021 league title. Al-Ahly were going well, but as they were busy with continental and then global commitments, rivals Zamalek pulled clear at the summit. While the Reds almost clawed the deficit back, they were unable to complete the job. Something similar has been happening this season too. Al-Ahly have slipped into third in the league, seven points behind Zamalek, but do have four games in hand.
It will now be up to assistant manager Samy Komsan to deal with that situation with a game on Wednesday against El-Sharqia and then the big Cairo derby four days later. The games will come thick and fast — there are five in the space of 14 days this month — but that is the price paid for going deep into multiple tournaments.
Mosimane, who led Mamelodi Sundowns to the 2016 Champions League, will surely feel a little relief that coaching Africa’s biggest club is now over. According to those close to him, he felt there were just too many issues between him and the bosses and he had become tired of the constant criticism that had come his way from numerous former Al-Ahly players, even when he was winning trophies.
“The journey that will always remain in our hearts started in October 2020,” Mosimane wrote to fans in a goodbye letter. “The warmth and love we were welcomed with made us feel already at home. Although we felt pressure as we were joining the Club of the Century, we knew that we were sent to Cairo for a reason. That reason was to deliver.”
He then goes on to describe how he delivered.
As the first Sub-Saharan coach to take charge of Al-Ahly, Mosimane has shown the continent’s big northern clubs that there is talent to the south. He has established himself as Africa’s top coach by winning the Champions League with more than one club. Had he triumphed in the most recent final then he would have been the first to win three in a row. If there are any European CEOs and chairpeople with open minds, then they should be giving the 57-year-old a call. It is not just his record of success that should attract interest, but also his knowledge of the continent as well as his contacts. After coaching major clubs such as the Sundowns and Al-Ahly, there would be no problem when it comes to pressure as few clubs elsewhere can match the Egyptian giants for that.
For Al-Ahly, Mosimane’s time should act as a similar lesson: There are reasons to look elsewhere to Africa. The criticism that came Mosimane’s way from former players is just the way it is in Cairo, even if there is a suspicion that had he been European or South American then there would, at least, have been a little more patience and understanding. Perhaps the bosses could have been more supportive of their manager, but it is never going to be easy when club legends weigh in like a footballing Greek chorus with their negative opinions on a regular basis. And in the end, over 600 days in charge of Al-Ahly is a longer spell than most coaches manage.
A positive legacy would be that those surrounding the club ask themselves if their public proclamations actually help Al-Ahly, but that is not going to happen. Big clubs attract attention, even if there is more on Al-Ahly than most.
When the dust settles, Mosimane’s time in Egypt will be seen as a success both in terms of titles and trophies and also what he has done for the reputation of African coaches. Hopes will be high that both coach and club can go on to bigger and better things, but whatever happens, they will look back at their 21-month relationship as a little rocky but very successful.