"Very few clubs around the globe can't afford to lose a single game and Ahly is one of them," said former coach Manuel Jose. While his tongue may have been placed firmly in cheek as those words were being said, there is a grain of truth in them. Expectations are high at a club who have more than 100 titles in 100 years.
Fans are not only proud of the club's winning pedigree, but the players who have worn the shirt, such as Mokhtar El Tetsh, Refaat El Fanagily, Mahmoud El Khateeb and Mohamed Aboutrika. FIFA.com will now turn the spotlight towards this unique club, which is reported to be the most popular side across Africa and the Middle East.
Birth of an institution
In 1907, Al Ahly was founded as a club which would be followed by Egypt's patriotic students. 'Ahly', which means 'national', were the team that embodied the rebellion against colonisation. Omar Lotfi is credited as the person who first came up with the idea of founding the club, in response to a need for a gathering place for the leaders of the student unions in Cairo. At the time, the student unions were crucial to the struggle against colonisation, as other clubs excluded local people from joining.
On 25 February 1907, Amine Samy chose the name 'Ahly' for the newly founded club to fit with its purpose. It started out as an Egyptian Limited Liability Company with a capital of 5000 EGP. The club's first chairman was an Englishman named Mitchell Ince, who facilitated the foundation of the club and issued planning permissions for the land it owned. In the year 1922, electricity was connected to the club's headquarters for the first time to replace gasoline in a major project that cost 52 EGP at the time.
Three years later, the club's congress decided to make membership exclusive to Egyptians, earning them the title of the 'the people's club'. From these humble origins, Al Ahly have attracted a large number of followers all over Africa, and claim to have over 50 million supporters, making them one of the most popular clubs in the world.
The club also has a reputation for being one of the most organised and sophisticated in the Middle East, adopting a high moral stance in its business dealings. For this reason it is known as 'the club of values' - a phrase initially coined by the club's all-time idol and former president Saleh Selim.
The making of a legend
The club took Egyptian football by storm. El Tetsh was considered to be the most talented footballer in the country's history and attracted the hearts of many of hi countrymen who travelled to Al Ahly's stadium, which was later to be named after him, merely to catch a glimpse of him in action. Ahly also won the first ten editions of the Egyptian league after its inauguration in 1948. The club enlarged its fanbase dramatically during this period before their eternal rivals Zamalek ended the incredible run in 1960. At that time, Al Ahly were inspired by the iconic El Fanagily, who was widely celebrated as Egypt's finest footballer of the 1950s.
A new era of success came under the stewardship of Hungary legend Nandor Hidegkuti, who nurtured the talent of players including Mahmoud El Khateeb, the first Egyptian player to be crowned as Africa's best player in 1983 after helping the club to their first continental success the year before. More success swiftly followed, with no fewer than five continental titles achieved in less than a decade.
With Manuel Jose at the helm, the club built on its reputation of being Africa's leading side. They have won more than 18 trophies under the command of the Portuguese boss, who is the most successful coach in the club's history. Arguably his vintage year came in 2005, when they went unbeaten to win the Egyptian championship, winning 24 of 26 matches and attaining 74 out of a possible 78 points.
Jose was indeed blessed by a host of outstanding players during his tenure such as former goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, defender Wael Gomaa, Mohamed Barakat, and Angolan duo Gilberto and Flavio. Yet, people credit his ability to keep hold of midfielder Aboutrika, despite lucrative bids from Europe and the Middle East, as one of the key factors for the club's continued success. The club's current coach is egyptian Hossam El Badry, who had previously been the assistant for Manuel Jose.
Surprisingly, the club has no home ground. Their old stadium, Mokhtar El Tetsh, is no longer in use for first team matches due to its limited capacity. They have consequently been playing their matches at Cairo's International Stadium.