The name Manuel Jose is intrinsically linked with Al Ahly success. The Portuguese coach has won more African Champions League trophies than any other coach (four) and was in charge of the Red Devils when they went on a fantastic run of 55 unbeaten matches. In 2006, Manuel Jose and the club arguably had their best-ever season, winning the African treble (domestic double and CAF Champions League), as well as the CAF and Egyptian Super Cups.
In the same season, Al Ahly also became the first African team to advance to the semi-finals at the FIFA World Club Cup. FIFA.com spoke to the coach in Cairo, where he was on hand to watch his former club win an unprecedented eighth Champions League title to qualify for their fifth FIFA Club World Cup.
And although he says he is worried for Ahly's prospects at the quickly approaching Morocco 2013, Manuel Jose still fondly remembers his own time at the Club World Cup. "It was unbelievable. A team from Africa played football like they play in Europe and finished third. We had a chance to be in the final against Barcelona because we were better than Internacional from Brazil in the semi-final. But they were lucky and had more experience than us. It was fantastic for the country, it was fantastic for the club and it was fantastic for the African football."
But when asked whether the Egyptian giants can replicate such an achievement this December, the veteran boss pulled no punches about the problems arising from the ongoing lack of domestic league action in Egypt. "Ahly have a big problem. They play only one time a month, which was also the problem with the national team when they lost 6-1 to Ghana [in FIFA World Cup qualifying]. The players of Ghana, they play about eight matches a month because they play in Europe. Here the players of the national team play one time a month, and now Al Ahly face the same situation.
"Another problem Ahly will be facing is that their most important players, their best players, are older. I think Mohamed Aboutrika and Wael Gomaa, who showed how important they are for the team, will finish their careers now that they have won the Champions League. This is my idea, this is what I feel. I am saying this because I know them very well. But Al Ahly will be in Morocco because they deserve to be there. Being at the Club World Cup is a big, big honour. It will be fantastic for them, especially as they even won the Champions League playing all their home games apart from the final without fans."
Although his last stint in charge of the Cairo giants dates back to the beginning of last year, Manuel Jose is still immensely popular with Ahly supporters. The VIP section in the Arab Contractors Stadium, where the Red Devils beat South African club Orlando Pirates to earn their eighth star, was swamped by supporters clamouring over chairs to have their photo taken with their hero. He obviously enjoys the adoration that he is shown. "My relationship with Egyptian people, not only Al Ahly fans, is unbelievable. I miss the fans so much, I miss my team, I miss all of Egypt. I have no words to describe what I feel about it. I coached the club eight years. Three times I left and three times I returned."
Manuel Jose, who was also a successful coach in his native Portugal, worked with most of the players in the current Al Ahly squad and said he would not have missed the Champions League final for anything. "Almost all of them were my players. The coach, he was my assistant. He deserves the Champions League because he is a good coach and a great person."
The Iberian tactician believes that the achievement of winning this Champions League goes far beyond merely winning a football tournament. "With the situation in Egypt, all the people deserve this great victory because they suffer so much in this moment. I think winning the Champions League is good for the ego of people. They need victories."
Although he is often connected with various coaching jobs, he has ruled out a return to Al Ahly. "No, Egyptians they don't have football now. I am 67 years old, I am going to work, but not here. I think it is not possible because of the political problems, they don't have regular football and they don't have money. This will also make it difficult for Al Ahly. A fantastic generation of players is nearing the end of their careers, and the club must start preparing for the future with young players, but without football, it is not possible."
Manuel Jose flew back to Portugal straight after the game, but he has already booked his next trip to Africa. He will cheer on his former team in Morocco in December, where they will try to become the second African team to qualify for the final of global club football's showpiece event.