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‘Eat, dream football culture’ propels Al Ahly to 12th CAF Champions League title

AL Ahly has reigned supreme in the CAF first-tier club championship ever since winning for the first time, in 1982. The Egyptian club won nine more times between 1982 and 2023, when they won again. Their latest 2024 victory takes their haul to 12, with 5 finishes as runners-up. This makes the side the most successful club side in the championship's history. It's a success story built on what can be referred to as an “eat, sleep and dream” culture, according to football strategist and coach, Paul Ogai.

IT is no surprise that Egyptian giants, Al Ahly are the Confederation of African Football (CAF) TotalEnergies 2023/2024 Champions League winners for a record 12th time, according to a Kenyan footballing strategist and coach.

The Egyptian ‘Red Devils’ beat Tunisia’s Esperance Sportive de Tunis 1-0 at a packed Cairo International Stadium on Saturday, May 25, 2024, in the second leg of the final to clinch the title, a week after a 0-0 draw in the first leg encounter in Tunisia.

Speaking after the Champions League title triumph, Al Ahly coach Marcel Kohler attributed his team’s success to a tactical style of trying to “break up their play to score, while being careful not to concede goals.”

“I set more than one scenario and we didn’t rush after the first goal, as that’s what Esperance wanted… Esperance didn’t create dangerous chances apart from long shots. Final matches are like chess games and we got what we wanted,” the 51-year-old Swiss tactician said, as quoted by CAF online.

The win emphasised the Egyptian side’s dominance of the continent’s most important club tournament.

Local rivals Zamalek have won the title five times, on par with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC’s) Tout Puissant Mazembe, popularly known as TP Mazembe. Esperance Sportive de Tunis have been champions four times.

Comparatively, Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid have won the European Champions League a record 14 times, while in South America, Argentina’s Club Atlético Independient is the most successful side in that region’s club tournament, having clinched the Copa Libertadores a record 7 times.

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According to Kenyan football coach, Paul Ogai, Al Ahly’s success is built on a very solid foundation. Development of young players, he explained, has been key to the side’s success.

“They have all the underage teams, starting from, let us say, under-7, to under-17, 18, 19 and so forth. That means even if they sign some of the best players from across Africa, they already have a foundation to sustain the team,” he said, speaking to Sports Network Africa.

Ogai is the head coach of Darajani Gogo FC, which features in Kenya’s National Super League (NSL). He noted that the ‘eat, sleep and dream’ football culture at Al Ahly will see the team continue to out-perform in years to come.

“They will continue dominating Africa because of the eat, sleep, dream football culture which creates a winning mentality. Winning attracts sponsors because a sponsor can only go to where there’s success. At Al Ahly, you will never hear that a player has not been paid for 6 months, or a coach has not been paid for a whole season,” he added.

“There is no witchcraft, it is about football being played the way it is supposed to be played. It is about the club being run professionally; from the management to the playing unit,” he emphasised.

Dennis Mogendi, a Kenyan football analyst who runs ‘The Buzz’ sports page on YouTube shares similar sentiments explaining that Al Ahly thrives on good management and signing the right players.

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“When you have a good coach, signed the right players from various African countries, and the management is effectively playing its role, most definitely the team will perform,” he noted.

CAF Champions League runners-up, Esperance Sportive de Tunis put up a spirited fight for the title losing narrowly due to an early goal by Roger Aholo which dimmed the Tunisians’ hope of being crowned champions for the first time since 2019.

However, according to Esperance manager, Miguel Cardos, they “fought until the end and showed great character.”

“We have a young team, and we succeeded in qualifying for the Club World Cup, and we must support this team during the coming period. I have been with Esperance for only four months, and we succeeded in building many things that were missing,” said the 47-year-old Portuguese.

Al Ahly will now face Zamalek in the CAF Super Cup before next season’s Champions League and Confederation Cup action starts. Zamalek won the Confederation Cup, after a recent 2-2 aggregate tie against Morocco’s RS Berkane in a two-legged final.

The Moroccans claimed a 2-1 win during the first leg before Zamalek registered a 1-0 win in the return leg.