End of era promises new beginning
Manuel Jose de Jesus has two more matches left at Cairo giants Al Ahly over the next seven days before closing the curtain on a tenure that has rewritten the history books. The 63-year-old Portuguese coach is not however moving to a more tranquil existence, away from the pressured demands of the Egyptian league. Instead, he hops from one cauldron to another with his appointment to take charge of host nation Angola for the upcoming CAF African Cup of Nations.
It is the end of an era in the north and the start, the Angolans fervently hope, of a new one in the south for Jose. The Palancas Negras, already out of the running for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, are hoping some of Jose's coaching magic can be interwoven into their beleaguered team, with recent results a far cry from the performances that saw them surprise qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals.
Jose was initially due to end his contract with Al Ahly next year but brought his departure forward by a season after the club's surprise elimination from the CAF Champions League. It was a rare setback in all-dominant spell enjoyed by the taciturn Portuguese, whose gruff exterior belies a heart of gold, and who has won for himself almost pharaohic status in the Egyptian capital.
Jose has enjoyed two spells at the Egyptian club constantly dominating at national and continental level, claiming almost all available silverware in the process. His achievements make for extraordinary reading and include four CAF Champions Leagues, four CAF Super cups, four Egyptian championships, two Egyptian cups and four Egyptian Super cups.
On Sunday, he will seek to add yet another championship to this list, a fifth successive league triumph. Al Ahly finished top of the standings at the conclusion of this season's Egyptian Premier League season, but level on points with Ismaili. As Egyptian rules do not allow for the championship to be settled on goal difference, the two will play off for the title in Cairo.
The Egyptian league is where Al Ahly have set a standard under Jose's tutelage, achievements that are unlikely to ever be reached again. In Jose's second spell in charge, he went through the first two seasons without losing a game. In the 2004/05 campaign, Ahly won 24 games and drew the other two and finished an astonishing 31 points ahead of second placed ENPPI.
The next year they won one game less and drew one more, but were still a runaway 14 points clear of runners-up Zamalek at the end of the campaign. In the three seasons since, during which time the league has been expanded by two teams, Al Ahly have lost just eight times in 90 outings. Overall, Jose's league record is an astonishing 109 wins and eight defeats across 142 league matches.
Jose's finishes his tenure, ironically, in Angola. He takes Al Ahly to Luanda next weekend (May 30-31) for a CAF Confederations Cup fourth round, second leg tie. The Egyptians have a healthy 3-0 lead from the opening fixture in Cairo and are heavily fancied to qualify for the league phase. Ahly dropped into the Confederations Cup after suffering a shock exit in the Champions League at the hands of Nigeria's Kano Pillars.
That defeat combined with an equally surprising loss at home in the 2007 Champions League final to Etoile Sahel, have been the only setbacks for Jose, whose farewell in Cairo should be filled with bonhomie and a genuine outpouring of affection. Al Ahly will be hoping they can continue their dominance but many will undoubtedly believe they are witnessing the closing of a golden chapter.