CAIRO. — He might be known as the “Pep Guardiola” of African football, but Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane’s mantra is one coined by the iconic Nelson Mandela.
“It always looks impossible until somebody does it,” Mosimane told CNN Sport.
The 56-year-old coach won a record five league titles in seven years with Mamelodi Sundowns, was part of the Bafana Bafana coaching staff at the inaugural FIFA World Cup hosted on the continent and became Al Ahly’s first ever black coach in 2020.
He will now have an opportunity to prove his mettle to the world after leading the Egyptian outfit to the Promised Land of club football at the FIFA’s Club World Cup, which begin in Qatar today, when they play Al Duhail SC.
If Al Ahly win, they will face Bayern Munich for a place in final.
Bayern will be the favourites to win the semi-final, but expectations are always high at a club like Al Ahly, which claim more than 60 million fans in the Arab world and have won 140 trophies.
Mosimane grew up in apartheid South Africa, so he is understandably proud of his coaching achievements, given his humble roots.
And. it’s Mandela’s own legacy that inspires him.
“Have you ever thought, in our time, that South Africa can have a black President as Nelson Mandela?” he asked. “That is an amazing story.”
Mosimane’s proudest achievements came when he conquered the CAF Champions League on two separate occasions — firstly with Sundowns in 2016 and then Al Ahly four years later.
“Can you believe that somebody from the township like me, from the background of apartheid, from the humble beginnings, can be the first person to win the Champions League in South Africa?
“And, win it twice and become coach of the year on the continent?’’
Last season, Mosimane did what nobody in world football has achieved to date.
He was a part of two teams that secured trebles in their respective countries.
First, he won three trophies in South Africa, including the league, and then he followed this up with Al Ahly, leading them to the continental crown as they beat arch-rival Zamalek 2-1 in the CAF Champions League final.
Ahly had already wrapped up the league title under René Weiler, who departed late in the season to be with his family in Switzerland, but Mosimane received a winner’s medal as he took over the team for the final two league games of the campaign.
He then guided the Red Devils to another triumph in the Egyptian Cup.
“Al Ahly is a club that demand success, in Egypt and Africa, it’s known as the Club of the Century,” explained former Egyptian international turned pundit Yaser Elshanawany.
“There’s only one other club that’s won more trophies than Al Ahly in the world and that’s Real Madrid, so when you get this job there’s lots of expectation.
“From the people I’ve spoken to at the club, they all tell me technically he’s very strong and knows how to analyse other teams.
“But, he’s really loved by the players and his staff because psychologically he knows how to connect with them, and build relationships with them.’’
Mosimane masterminded Sundowns’ 5-0 drubbing of the Red Devils in the 2019 CAF Champions League quarter-finals.
It was a signature win that showcased Mosimane’s ability and also persuaded Al Ahly they didn’t need to look outside the continent for a coach.
“I’ve not met Pep, but I can see why they have similarities,” says Sundowns captain, Hlompo Kekana.
“Both play a possession-based game, but are always looking for perfection. Pitso was always looking for us to win matches, but he always wanted us to go out and express ourselves within our structures, never to sit back.
“To press high and keep the pressure on, never to let off, play with high intensity.’’
It’s this type of philosophy that Al Ahly president and club great, Mahmoud El Khatib, had admired from afar and made him move for Mosimane.
“He’s a legend . . . it’s like having Kenny Dalglish becoming president of Liverpool,” said Mosimane. “His head was on the block for appointing the first sub-Saharan coach to lead Al Ahly.
“Now, he’s proven right. We won the trophy and everything is good.”
Al Ahly hadn’t won the CAF Champions League in seven years and had lost two of the previous three finals.
Despite Mosimane’s trophy-laden season, he was not recognised by FIFA on their Coach of the Season short-list.
“FIFA must also consider coaches outside of European nominees because these are world awards,” said Mosimane.
“Our lives should not be about awards as coaches, we need to change people’s lives.’’
Mosimane’s success has created a stir on the African continent and many have debated if he can be the first African to move from the continent to coach in one of Europe’s major leagues.
“Is this a possibility? Yes,” he said, before adding: “We have to be realistic to say Europe doesn’t have a lot of African coaches.
“I don’t want to politicise this and make it a case of playing the race card, but some things need to be told as they are.
“But, I just believe that a medical doctor, who is from South Africa, is the same medical doctor who is in Europe. I believe an architect, who has qualified in South Africa, is an architect in Europe.
“So I just don’t understand when it comes to football coaching, why these things get looked at differently.
“I mean, you cannot tell me all these big players, African players, who won the Champions League in Europe, who are living there and none of those Africans can have an opportunity to coach.
“Maybe in our children’s generation, things can change.’’ Mosimane needs no reminding that apartheid lasted almost five decades in South Africa, or that Al Ahly took over 100 years to appoint their first black coach. — CNN