Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane: 'I’ve been in a whirlpool ever since I’ve been here'
Pitso Mosimane has explained that there was pressure on him to win from the start at Al Ahly‚ and says despite that he still was intent on imposing his own style of play at the Egyptian giants and newly-crowned Caf Champions League winners.
Mosimane said the fact that Ahly had wrapped up the 2020-21 Egyptian Premier League when he arrived in early October under predecessor Rene Weiler did not make life easier as the ex-Mamelodi Sundowns coach was under immense scrutiny in every step he made‚ and game he played.
The coach and his South African technical staff members he took to Ahly with him could not have asked for a better start than eight wins and a draw‚ including the 2-1 victory against bitter Cairo rivals Zamalek in Friday night’s Champions League final. And Ahly can still wrap up a treble if they beat El Gaish in the Egyptian Cup final on Saturday.
“I’ve been in a whirlpool ever since I’ve been here‚” Mosimane admitted in a digital press conference with the SA Football Journalists’ Association on Thursday morning.
“You could say that probably it was easier for me because the league was already won‚ and there were only five games left. But it’s not like that‚ because at this level‚ at this stage‚ results are very important.
“And you might say that the team was already in the semifinals of the Champions League. It was‚ but for me to get there‚ I had to win all the [league] games in-between the semifinals. And if you lose all those – you know the story.
“Those league games were pressure games for me because everybody wanted to see‚ ‘Can we trust this guy‚ who is this guy?
“The pressure is to continue winning. I had to start my own journey‚ and you start your journey by winning games and showing the difference and what it is that you are bringing in.
“So I changed the way we play‚ I changed the format‚ I changed the principles. I put my software. And to put your software you have to get rid of the software that’s inside.
“It’s like you’re cleaning the laptop‚ and putting a whole new system‚ and you have to tell the people how to apply that software‚ and teach them how to do it.
“So I took out what won the league‚ and everybody says‚ ‘Why are you changing now?’ I said‚ ‘No‚ because I need you to play differently‚ because the way you played to win the league I don’t think is the right way to win the Champions League’.
“I said‚ ‘Yes‚ you can win the league that way‚ because you have already won the league anyway. But Champions League is completely different. And we can’t go the same way as you guys have been going for the last seven years without winning the Champions League’.
“And when you do that people are just looking at you to say‚ ‘What’s this guy doing now?’ So I said‚ ‘I’m bringing the way Sundowns plays‚ and you said you liked the way Sundowns play’.
“I said‚ ‘This is what I’m bringing to the table. Did you like it?’ And they said‚ ‘Yes‚ we liked it’.”
Mosimane has become the first black sub-Saharan African to coach Africa’s Club of the 20th Century.
“And it’s a bit difficult because since 1907 you are replacing the Europeans only [as coaches]‚ or the South Americans‚ or Egyptians‚” he said.
“And that’s also pressure. Pressure for Africa‚ for Africans to coach Al Ahly – I’m saying Africans outside north Africa. And there’s pressure to win the games. There’s Pyramids too [apart from Zamalek]‚ so it’s like Sundowns‚ Pirates and Chiefs.
“So you have to build up in those games to show that you can win the Champions League. And also you have two rounds of the cup to get to the final.
“Thank God things have gone the right way – we haven’t lost a game until now. And have conceded not many goals. And we have scored goals – just more than two a game.
“But the most important thing is to change the way we play and make them enjoy their football. Because normally it becomes just a brawl or a fight.
“And you know the players have the right attitude in North Africa – they go for it. Unlike in South Africa‚ where sometimes you ask yourself‚ ‘What happened today‚ the team was not in it?’.
“And they bash and have duels‚ and they are big boys here. ... But we did build to the [Champions League] final‚ through the two tough rounds of the semifinals [against Wydad Casablanca]. And thank God we are where we are.”
Ahly extended their record to nine Champions League titles‚ and Friday night’s triumph was their first since beating Orlando Pirates in the 2013 final.