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Shut Up… The Real Pitso Stood Up!

Pitso Mosimane has received some criticism after returning from the FIFA Club World Cup with a bronze medal. He achieved something no African team had managed to do over the past six years. He achieved something Al Ahly – the most successful club in African history – only managed to achieve once before in five previous attempts. Yet, he was criticised heavily in Egypt by some sections of Al Ahly’s fanatic fans as well as some of the club’s former players.

A very vocal critic was former Egypt and Al Ahly midfielder Mohamed Emara, who had a stint with Hansa Rostock in the Bundesliga. The retired international said Mosimane is “poor at managing matches” and “has not left an imprint” on him since joining the Club of the Century. Yet, “Jingles” has seen records tumble since he moved to North Africa. I do not think anyone at Al Ahly could have imagined Pitso to be as successful as he has been in his first few months in charge. Yes, the Egyptian League title was already secured by his predecessor Rene Weiler, but Pitso added the CAF Champions League title and the Egyptian Cup to the club’s illustrious trophy cabinet.

In addition, he returned from the Club World Cup in Qatar with a bronze medal.

It took 23 games before the former Mamelodi Sundowns coach lost his first game in charge of Al Ahly. It needed none other than UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munich – a side that thrashed FC Barcelona 8-2, Tottenham Hotspur 7-2, Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate, LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid 4-0 earlier in the season – to end Mosimane’s unbeaten run with Al Ahly. The same Bayern that have lost only three games since the beginning of 2020.

The Bavarians’ starting XI at the Club World Cup semi-final was worth €546 million, 39 times more than the line-up Pitso selected for the game. It shows the huge difference in quality between both sides. Yes, Al Ahly won the CAF Champions League in 2020, but there is still a massive gulf between the two teams, and I am not talking about the Mediterranean Sea!

With the abovementioned in mind, it should not have surprised many that Mosimane set up his team to focus on defence first. If you watched the game, you will have noticed that Bayern did not have many other opportunities to score, and it took them until the 85th minute to score their second goal, which truly put the game to bed. Before Robert Lewandowski completed his brace, though, Al Ahly were in the game, so much that Bayern fans on Twitter had started to ask where the Egyptian giants would end up if they were playing in the Bundesliga instead of the Egyptian Premier League.

Pitso became the first South African coach to win a game at the Club World Cup after his side beat Al Duhail in their second-round clash. He also became the first South African coach to come back with a medal – a feat only three African teams in 16 previous editions of the tournament had achieved.

Club World Cup aside, Mosimane has more than lived up to expectations at Al Ahly so far. He was basically thrown into the deep end, taking over from Rene Weiler in the middle of the campaign without having any pre-season to bring his own players in or train his own tactics. Of course, he took over a well-oiled machine, but many forget that Weiler’s Ahly lost 3-1 to rivals Zamalek in the league, while Pitso’s Ahly beat their bitter rivals 2-1 in the CAF Champions League final.

Remember, when Mosimane took over at Al Ahly, they had not been crowned African champions in seven years, losing their previous two Champions League finals. Club president Mahmoud El Khatib wanted Mzansi’s finest coach for a reason! He needed him to win big games and bring the CAF Champions League back.

Of course, Pitso knew from the first day that Al Ahly would be a different level to anything he had experienced at Sundowns before. The club’s social media accounts were all over him when he first arrived in Egypt, hundreds of journalists came for his unveiling, and millions of fanatic fans have followed his every move since. But it is a challenge Mosimane has always welcomed and probably looked forward to.

One gets the feeling he has been waiting for an opportunity like this and worked hard towards it his whole career. Pitso left South Africa after winning every trophy on offer and had to move on to the next level.
He did admit that he was not satisfied with losing to Bayern because one of his dreams is to lift the Club World Cup, to become a world champion, and he will hopefully have another go at achieving it.

So far, though, it has to be said that the son of the soil has more than fulfilled the expectations at Al Ahly. He has a better points-per-game average than any other coach (those with more than 20 games in charge) in the club’s illustrious history. He has picked up 2.54 points per game, winning 19 of his 24 games in charge to date – a run that has seen his side score 49 goals and concedes just 14.

Over the past few weeks, “Jingles” has been compared to Pep Guardiola, received praise from Bayern Munich’s Hans-Dieter Flick – a man who lifted more trophies than he has lost games since he took over at the Bavarians – and met with some of football’s elite, including FIFA president Gianni Infantino. South African football and Africa as a whole could not have asked for a better ambassador, so to Mosimane’s critics, one last time: Shut up, because the real Pitso stood up!

Cheers,
Dave

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