Prior to the start of the 2009/10 Egyptian Premier League season, doubts were raised about the ability of Cairo giants Al Ahly to maintain their domestic dominance. These concerns became even more vocal following the departure of the team’s spiritual leader Manuel Jose. The respected Portuguese coach had led the Cairo club in the most successful spell in its history and the appointment of his number two as a successor only fuelled those doubts. How, after all, would an untested young coach like Hossam El Badry cope with the demands of an iconic club such as Al Ahly?
The club’s pre-season preparations did not convince Red Devils' fans that he was the best man for the job, as they suffered a number of heavy defeats, but as it turned out, El Badry silenced his critics within weeks. In fact, the champions were unbeaten through the first half of the season despite missing key players such as Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat through injury. At the halfway point, Al Ahly were top of the league by a huge margin, with El Badry having handed eight young players their debuts and adopted a totally different style to his predecessor.
At the start of the second half of the season, the serial champions embarked on a relatively barren period, conceding more goals in five matches than in their previous 15. Oddly, this dip in form coincided with the return of their senior players, but El Badry kept a firm hand on the rudder and steered his team through a critical phase in the season. Another series of convincing wins enabled Al Ahly to seal their 35th title with three rounds to spare.
Zamalek on the charge
As for fans of local rivals Zamalek, their season was quite the opposite experience. A terrible start led to the Cairo outfit occupying 13th position at the halfway stage, before the appointment of Hossam Hassan proved a turning point and Zamalek raced back into contention for the title. Indeed, but for defeat by Haras El Hedood in Alexandria, they could even have taken the race to the final game. In the end they had to be content with second place, 10 points behind the champions.
Under the leadership of Egyptian coach Emad Soliman, Ismaily held onto their position as one of the big three despite huge swings in form. Coached by Talaat Youssef - nicknamed the Egyptian Mourinho for his well-organised defensive style - Police Union surprised many observers by ending the season in fourth place, just one point behind Ismaily. As usual, Petrojet put in some fine performances throughout the season without really challenging for honours, and had to settle for fifth spot after finishing on the same points as Police Union but with an inferior goal difference.
Military Production were confirmed as surprise-packets of the season for their consistent displays and results, especially when taking into consideration they were playing in the Egyptian Premier League for the first time in their history. At the bottom of the table there were few surprises as Ghazl Al-Mehalla joined Mansoura and Upper Egypt representatives Asyut Petroleum in making the unwelcome descent to the second division.
The main talking point in 2009/10 has to be the emergence of local coaches. For the first time in many years there were no foreign managers at any of the top four sides by the end of the season, and only two in the whole division: Bulgarian Stoytcho Mladenov at ENPPI and Brazilian Carlos Cabral at Al Ittihad.
Foreign players did, however, hog the limelight. The top scorer on 14 goals was Nigerian Minusu Buba for Police Union, and just behind him on 13 strikes came Petrojet’s Ghanaian striker Eric Bekoe. Third place saw a four way tie with Zamalek’s Ahmed Gaafar, Haras El Hedood’s Ahmed Abdelghani, Al Gaish’s Talaat Moharam and Al Ahly’s Emad Moteab all on nine goals.
A number of young stars with promising futures ahead of them emerged during the season, the pick of whom were Ibrahim Shihab Aldeen Ahmed and Ahmed Shukri from Al Ahly, Amr Al-Sulaya from Ismaily and Zamalek’s Omar Gaber.