King Jose eyes African crown
© AFP

In Portugal, the headline writers like to trumpet him as the 'King of Africa'. In Egypt, they simply call him 'Mister'. Both monikers sit aptly on the head of Manuel Jose, the Portuguese coach who is again seeking to rewrite football's record books in both Egypt and Africa.

The 62-year-old has become arguably the most successful foreign coach to ever work in the continent, restoring the glories of Al Ahly and masterminding the dominant run they are looking to maintain over the coming weeks. As the Cairo giants, Africa's club of the 20th century, go into their CAF Champions League 2008 semi-final, Jose chases his 19th trophy in just five seasons with the club.

This weekend they are at Aba in Nigeria for the first leg against Enyimba, and are just two games away from equaling another admirable milestone. Indeed, if Ahly get past Enyimba, they will match the feat of TP Mazembe Englebert and reach a fourth successive final in African football's top club competition.

Ahly already share a record of five Champions League titles with compatriots and arch-rivals Zamalek, having fallen to Etoile Sahel at the final hurdle last year in their quest to become the first side to lift the trophy three times in succession. It was a rare failure for Jose, whose list of successes grows with virtually every tournament he is involved in.

I will always respect Jose, who I deem the best foreign coach in the history of the Reds
Essam Al Hadary, who worked under Manuel Jose at Al Ahly, on the Portuguese coach.

His gruff public exterior belies a good-natured geniality he shares with his players, some of whom are effusive in their praise of his leadership. "," said former Al Ahly goalkeeper Essam Al Hadary, now at Sion in Switzerland.

Mohamed Aboutrika credits the coach with turning him from an average players into the star he is today, while veteran Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan signed for Ahly rather than Zamalek because of Jose when he came to end of his contract at Anderlecht.

Jose has always been a coach with an eye for talent. In Portugal he is credited with discovering Luis Figo and in Egypt the likes of Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat have become legends under his tutelage.

Al Ahly have lost just six Egyptian Premier League games in over four seasons, and went unbeaten during their title-winning campaigns of 2004/2005 and 2005/2006. But it is the search for Champions League glory and a lasting legacy in African football that drives Jose.

He says he has had many offers to return to Portugal, where he has coached the likes of Benfica, Boavista and Uniao Leiria, but sees his stay in Africa as much more than an exotic adventure. It is a challenge to which Jose is addicted.


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