Taha Ismail, aged 81, is understandably seen as a ‘voice of reason’ at Al Ahly.
Ismail is a revered former footballer who played as a forward for the Red Devils and the Egyptian national team during his heydays.
In fact, he represented his country in the 1964 Summer Olympics. And then between 1958 and 1970, he played 166 games for the recently crowned African champions and notched an impressive 64 goals during that stint.
The 1959 Africa Cup of Nations winner moved into management after retiring, and was in charge of the Saudi Arabian national team between 1972 and 1974, and had two short spells managing the Egypt national football team.
Together with Mimi El Sherbiny, they are the only two players of Egypt’s class of 1959 who are still alive.
And Ahly are never hesitant to tap into the wells of his wisdom whenever they have to make key decisions. So, when it was time to let go of Swiss coach Renè Weiler and bring in a new man to take charge of the club, he was the brains Ahly boss Mahmoud El Khatib picked. He was his voice of reason.
”I suggested the name of the coach (Pitso) Mosimane to the technical committee at Al Ahly and the feedback was good. I even talked to Taha Ismail and he welcomed the decision to sign coach Pitso.”
According to the Ahly boss, a man affectionately known as Bibo in continental football circles, not only did Ismail agree to the signing of the former Mamelodi Sundowns coach, but he “even asked that we conclude the deal fast.”
Now, that is how much the wise Ismail believed a move for the former Bafana Bafana coach was apt. Armed with that golden approval, Bibo opened negotiations with Mosimane. “I talked to the coach… I made it clear we wanted to win the African Champions League title.”
At the time, Ahly had wrapped up the league title with seven games before the end of the season. Understandably, the only thing that made sense at that point was gunning for the prestigious Champions League. Luckily, in Mosimane, they were courting a man who is deeply in love with winning. He had just led Sundowns to a dramatic title triumph – the fifth for himself – that saw them topple Kaizer Chiefs on the last day of the campaign in stunning, sensational fashion.
What else was left to achieve in his motherland, South Africa? The 2016 African champions had gone on to win their third title for the season – the Nedbank Cup.
The 56-year-old mentor has lived up to his word and delivered the prestigious Champions League. “I want to thank Pitso for his hard work, keeping his promise, and his faithfulness,” Bibo added.
While Bibo has been quick to thank Mosimane for keeping his word, Jingles is certainly not done as he guides his charges against Al Ittihad in the semi-final of the Egyptian Cup on Tuesday night. If Ahly progresses, which they are likely, they will possibly face Zamalek again in the final.
It’s history in the making for Mosimane – two trebles in two nations with two different clubs in just over two months!
And Ismail will be smiling wherever he is.
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By Mthokozisi Dube