Meeting the man, you are immediately struck by his natural charisma. Wildish dark grey hair fails to hide behind a face creased with lines of knowledge and wit. Below a crinkled brow, energetic brown eyes shine handsomely, burning an impression into each person held within its rays of light. Following in the line of Bruno Metsu, Philippe Troussier and others, Manuel Jose is the latest coach to discover in African waters the perfect potions to brew near miracles.

The continent's most popular club, Egypt's Al Ahly have long since been considered one of Africa's top sides. Their achievements, recognised by the African Football Confederation when named CAF Club of the Century, came long before the arrival of the Portuguese. But with the start of the new millennium, Jose has taken Ahly to a different level altogether.

The Cairo side arrive in Japan for their biggest day out not only as champions of Africa but with a record that takes the breath away. As Jose does not mind pointing out, they won 24 of 26 games last season, and have won the first ten in the new campaign. It is now 17 months and 55 games since Ahly tasted the bitter pill of defeat.

"I tell you something, you would not believe the way we last lost a game. I've been in football for 45 years and I've never seen anything like it," he begins immediately warm and familiar. "It was the Cup final and the score was 1-1 (against Mekawleen) deep into injury time. We won a penalty. Our players thought it would be the last kick of the match and came near the ball. The penalty hit the bar, bounced back over our players to one of theirs, they scored and we lost the cup."

Jose chuckles and nods his head. "Yes, that defeat made us sensitive," he adds in his direct, unpretentious English, sending a message all the more powerful for its simplicity.

Risky
Many might have expected Jose, who was in his second spell as coach of Ahly, to have adopted a more defensive approach after that game. But the former Sporting and Benfica boss has forever entertained a philosophy that football should be free-flowing and entertaining and, now approaching 60, those ideals are hardly likely to change.

"Yes, we take risks," he confesses with a hint of defiance.  "Our secret, if there is one, is to be well organised, play a modern, risky 3-4-3 system, and, yes, we play to win matches. I knew when we played our first Champions League match in Uganda that we had the best team in Africa."

Just over half a year later, Ahly proved invincible, twice defeating Nigeria's Enyimba, winners in 2003 and 2004, cross-town rivals Zamalek in the semi-finals and last year's runners up Etoile Sahel of Tunisia in the final. That CAF award was never better deserved. It was an amazing turnaround for a team that were struggling to match up to the tag of Club of the Century when Jose took over in January 2004. 

"Things were terrible, the fans had lost faith, the players had no confidence, the management was under tremendous pressure and we were in the middle of the season," he remembers. "I knew we had no chance of winning titles that year so I preferred to study the side and work on the players' spirits and morale. It was more like a therapy period. At the same time, I was monitoring other players in different clubs to decide which ones I needed to buy. We brought in Emad El Nahhas, Mohamed Barakat and Shawky, players with a deep desire to win."

As well as his infectious personality, Jose's other major managerial skill is the unique knack of recognising the roughest diamond. He was said to be the man to discover Luis Figo at Sporting Lisbon and, under his guiding light, Mohamed Barakat has blossomed into one of Africa's finest performers.

"We've a lot of great players like Aboutrika, Gilberto, Moteab and many others but what is very special about Barakat is that he is a player who can turn a game on its head," he says. "When we feel that we cannot score or when we are under pressure, you can count on him to turn things around. There are only a very few players around the globe who have this talent, to be able to really make the difference."

Communion
Jose is eager enough to heap praise on individuals, but the engine behind Ahly's incredible success has been his players' empathy with tactics, communion and undiminished enthusiasm. 

"The players deserve all the credit for this magnificent success. I like to be very close to them but I never let any of them feel too comfortable to think that he can secure himself a place on my squad because he is close to me," he reveals. "Every player knows that he can play one bad game but if he plays two then he has a problem with me. They know that the only way to secure their place in the team is to perform well in matches and train hard."

In his twilight coaching years, the Portuguese, who never quite managed to hit the heights of stardom despite bossing a succession of teams over a lengthy period, finds himself the centre of world attention as Ahly arrive in Japan. 

Naturally, Japanese media have latched onto Ahly's winning streak in the build up.

"We have not tasted defeat for more than 16 months and, honestly, this record has become more of a burden," he says. "I know the players think about it a lot and it may affect their concentration. But I try to use that to our advantage and I always remind them that now they have to win every match because every time they walk on the pitch, they're defending their reputation and a record that may not be broken for many years to come."

Should Ahly return to Egypt with those numbers intact, then the infectious Manuel Jose De Jesus Silva can expect even more attention from Ahly's estimated 40 million fans.