al-ahly coach in fall from grace

Al-Ahly coach Manuel Jose began his weekend as the darling of Cairo and ended it as a demon.

Al-Ahly coach Manuel Jose began his weekend as the darling of Cairo and ended it as a demon.

A shock exit from the African Champions League brought instant public and media pressure on the 63-year-old successful Portuguese with a short temper and a fondness for chewing gum.

Ahly have won the Champions League a record six times and four of those titles came under Jose, but Egyptian television has already named ex-Germany World Cup star Lothar Matthaus as a possible successor.

Former Fifa footballer of the year Matthaus, 48, is coaching in Israel after unspectacular spells with clubs in Austria, Serbia and Brazil and the Hungarian national team.

Jose said several weeks before the final qualifying round loss to African rookies Kano Pillars of Nigeria on the away-goal rule that he will not renew his contract when it expires in mid-2010.

Now the Egyptian media are speculating that if Ahly fail to clinch a fifth consecutive national title Jose may quit or be led to the exit door by the most successful club in African football history. Ahly are three points adrift of one-time African champions Ismailia with three fixtures left.

And as if the man who has lived in a hotel throughout his two spells in Cairo did not have enough to upset him, he was fined $2000 for protesting against the referee of a recent league game.

Though Jose has such a frosty relationship with the Egyptian media that assistant Hossam al-Badry attends press conferences, Cairo columnist Hatem Maher sprang to the defence of the Portuguese.

"It would be a fatal mistake if the club decided to sack Jose, under whom Ahly enjoyed splendid success. Yes, he made notable errors throughout the season, but who doesn't? One disappointing season out of five is a great record for the Portuguese tactician.

"Ahly need new players, not a new coach," stressed Maher as he reflected on a squad packed with ageing, combat-hardened footballers who may have grown weary from a tight schedule.

The loss of the best goalkeeper in Africa, Essam al-Hadary, to Swiss club Sion last year was a massive blow as Jose eventually lost patience with erratic replacement Amir Abdulhamid and elevated raw Palestinian Ramzi Saleh.

A Saleh parry gifted Kano the lead in Cairo and he was badly positioned when beaten by a lob for the second that left Ahly needing three goals in 21 minutes to reach the group phase.

Goals from Angolan Flavio Amado and Mohamed Barakat snatched a 2-2 draw, but Ahly were out despite a 1-1 first-leg draw in Nigeria. - Sapa-AFP