What are the implications of Al Ahly success?
What exactly contributes to a club conquering the rest of the field to remain the last club standing? What factors contribute to Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, and Ajax Amsterdam winning the Uefa Champions League?
What forces are at play here when a team like ASEC Mimosa, Hearts of Oak, TP Mazembe, Esperance de Tunis, Raja Casablanca, Zamalek or Al Ahly effortlessly ascend to the pinnacle of African football?
Is it the strength of their domestic league? Is it the organisational skills and professionalism around the club that contributes to their success? Is it the collective or individual quality of the players at a particular club that propel them to rise above the rest?
Are certain players more physically endowed than others? Is it in their genes or do other players train harder and consequently, are physically better conditioned than the rest? Or does the grey matter between the ears of certain players make them think better and quicker than their peers?
I ask these questions because I have been astounded by the simple manner in which Al Ahly won the 2012 African Champions League. Before you ask whether I have smoked my socks, I suppose congratulations are in order for the African Red Devils.
How on earth do players that have not featured in any competitive domestic match for two years rise above the rest of the clubs across the continent to win Africa’s Premier club competition with so much ease?
Two years ago Egyptians engaged in the fierce fight to topple Hosni Mubarak. At the forefront of this battle were the Ultras, a radical group that has close ties with Al Ahly.
The domestic league was eventually suspended. The national team suffered from an acute lack of game time and succumbed to little Central African Republic, who eliminated them from qualifiers for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
It was against this background that 74 people died during a match featuring Al Masry against Ahly. Observers claimed it was an orchestrated massacre. The Ultras took to the streets, demanding justice and football ground to a halt across Egypt.
Al Ahly continued to train between themselves, denied of an opportunity to match their skills and fitness levels against their rivals and worse still, when playing opponents from outside the country, hosted such matches behind closed doors.
All over Africa, we played competitive league matches on a weekly basis. Yet an Egyptian club is the last man standing at the end of the African Champions League that concluded last week when Ahly nailed Esperance 3-2 on aggregate.
What does that tell you about our professional leagues across the continent? That a group of players who were denied an opportunity to test their physical conditioning on a daily basis, still managed to conquer the rest of the continent. The answer is simple, and all of us across Africa need to take an honest look at ourselves and our football and we will find the truth staring us in the face regarding the state of our game.
It simply sucks!
There are valuable lessons to be learned from Egyptian players who are a credit to the game. One of the important lessons is that, despite challenges facing you, in spite of the lack of financial incentives due to lack of gate fees, Al Ahly players persevered.
How many times have we read about players who did not face the challenges and hardships that faced the Egyptians, skipping training while others have bunked training and later “confessed” that their aunty or uncle had died?
The same player who “kills” relatives on a monthly basis expects to be taken seriously? I salute Al Ahly management and their players for rising above insurmountable odds to bag the biggest prize in African football. I wish them luck in the Fifa World Club championship next month.