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What makes Al Ahly potent in Africa

Without a doubt, Al Ahly is the biggest club and football brand on the African continent. As a sports club, in the mould of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, this behemoth carries 18 different sporting codes under its umbrella, and most of them are Olympics sports.

Apart from the football team, the club is home to basketball, swimming, gymnastics, handball, and volley teams, and each has its arena, including a separate facility for indoor sports.

Pitso Mosimane has added to the impressive cash-flush Cairo giants’ glittering trophy cabinet in the last two years, boasting a record 10 Caf Champions League titles. A high-performance culture is the order of the day, with an apparent onslaught to dominate at an international level.

Generations of players and coaches have lived the Ahly dream. Central to their understanding and the accepted norm of these members is the willingness to make Ahly the greatest team in the world. Their leadership is demanding and impatient. Failure is punished across the Ahly brand, and mediocrity is taboo to their legions of supporters. 

Ahead of a grudge match against Mamelodi Sundowns today, FARPostIntelligence Unit looks at the key fundamentals in the Ahly set-up that makes them so potent and successful in continental football.

1. Mosimane’s tactical ploy

Tactical manifestation is vital in modern football. Hours of planning is the hallmark of successful teams. Under Pitso Mosimane, ‘The Red Devils’ are tactically well coded. Mosimane, as expected, has laid down a clear understanding of how to approach matches. Over the years, Ahly has mastered the art of playing away in Africa and how to play at home.

Furthermore, Mosimane deploys various tactical schemes. In his own words, it is essential to play the match and not the occasion. Ahly has been seamless in using a traditional 1-4-3-3 and succinct 1-4-2-3-1 attack formations depending on the opponent. Their defensive structure has applied selective pressing, calculated withdrawal, and narrowed the inner defensive zones in recent outings.

2. Mixed possession possibilities 

Throughout his coaching career, Mosimane has been innovative. The coach believes in an agile team capable of adapting to any system. At Supersport United earlier in his career, Mosimane was fascinated with triangulation and short-passing interplay. At Sundowns, he perfected the ‘Shoe-Shine and Piano’ of his forebearer Screamer Tshabalala. Both these approaches brought trophies and helped cement Mosimane’s creative instincts.

Since arriving in Egypt, Mosimane has evolved too. His current team looks efficient and stubborn. Possession traits are still evident in this Ahly side. But, Mosimane has gone a step further. They play a mixed possession game. In simple terms, they can keep possession and control games. However, this mixed possession approach has intentional incision, forward-thinking and verticality at every opportunity.

3. Dual midfield supremacy

A mixed-possession football application requires technical genius. Controlling the game’s pace, tempo, and direction demands supreme talent. Thus, the correct selection of top midfielders is a must for Ahly. Besides the efficiency to break attacks and regain possession, using the ball proficiently is essential.

Central to the midfield operation of Ahly is two supremos, Aliou Dieng and Hamdi Fathi. Both bring a risk-free collaboration in Mosimane’s midfield tactical master plan. Dieng offers technical supremacy, tactical drive in attack and aerobic capacity beyond the threshold of an average midfielder. His playing partner, Fathi, is a quiet midfield beast as well. He is very calm in possession, understands his positional play, and delivers the necessary balance in attack and defence for Ahly.

4. Player Investment 

Selection and recruitment in club football is key to the success of its brand. Across the world, leading clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain invest heavily in their squads. According to transfermarket.com, the current Ahly squads is valued at €31.85 million [R529 million]. This includes the current season transfer total expenditure of €1.59m [R29 million].

As compared to their leading Caf competitors, the investment is incomparable. The opposition club’s figures and statistics as supplied by transfermarket.com show:

• Sundowns 

€23.38 million [R392 million] total squad & €1.40m [R23.9 million] [season]

• Wydad Casablanca 

€13.40 million [R228 million] total squad & €1.02 million [R17.4 milion] [season]

• Esperance de Tunis

€18.20 million [R310 million] total squad & €1.61 million [R27.4 million] [season]

In addition, Ahly has more national team players (18) as compared to Sundowns (16) and Esperance (12), further confirming the high level where they are operating at.

5. Fifa Club World Cup

Ahly has its sights on more extensive operations. Full-scale planning is geared towards international competition. Everybody associated with the club understands the bigger picture of global presence and excellence. Whereas in other leagues, clubs struggle to win their domestic championships, Ahly aims for international participation at every opportunity. Fresh from defending the Caf Super Cup and Champions League. A successive bronze medal was achieved at the Fifa World Club Cup. Participation at this level of competition enhances the club brand, and on the pitch accelerates the player’s technical-tactical proficiency, mental fortitude, experience, and team cohesion.

On Saturday night, the exciting history, achievements, and journey of Ahly will be tested by the South African champions. The stage is set for brutal confrontation at different levels. If the recent matches of the two sides are anything to go by, then the Cairo grass is about to bear the brunt. Expect an abrasive affair, littered in the technical-tactical ramifications befitting the teams and the competition. Still, in the words of Mosimane, ‘Ahly doesn’t need to beat Sundowns to win the champions league’. Words can be deceiving, and both camps will know better than their hard-to-please supporters expect nothing but a resounding victory over their newfound rival.

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