Egypt’s popular club Zamalek took their decades-old claim to the “African Club of the 20th Century” title to a new level, making a unilateral and public announcement that they are the ones entitled to it, rather than Cairo nemesis Ahly.
Twenty years after Ahly were given the honorary prize by African governing body CAF, Zamalek’s eccentric chairman Mortada Mansour said his club would lodge a complaint with the Cairo of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to “regain their right”.
Before they prepare a legal claim, they decided to take a preliminary and symbolic step — describing themselves as the “real African club of the century” on a billboard that hangs over the club’s premises in a famous Giza district.
The message also features an implicit accusation that CAF had unjustly favored Ahly, another conspiracy theory long embraced by Zamalek’s hardcore supporters.
“Putting that billboard is part of the measures taken by the club to acquire its legitimate rights … after winning nine continental titles (in the 20th century), more than any other team,” Zamalek said on their official website.
The billboard, pictured below, was derided by many Egyptian football fans on social media, including the Ahly faithful who said the message was not only outdated but also farcical.
“It’s a hopeless case. I cannot imagine that they are still discussing that in 2020,” said one fan on Twitter.
Zamalek’s claim hinges on an assumption that CAF had used a faulty system to determine who deserved the honorary award. The ‘White Knights’ said the fact that they had won a record four titles of Africa’s premier club competition at the time should have pipped them ahead of then two-time winners Ahly.
However, CAF’s complex coefficient system awarded the same number of points to the winners of that competition — before it was re-branded the Champions League in 1997 — and the winners of the less prestigious Cup Winners Cup, which Ahly had won four times.
CAF did not respond to Zamalek’s fresh accusations, but celebrated the anniversary of the award on its official Twitter feed.
“Today marks 20 years since Al Ahly was crowned team of the century. Happy anniversary,” said CAF, who Al Ahly the recognition on 22 May 2000.
In the new century, Ahly left Zamalek trailing in their wake with a mesmerizing run that saw them win the Champions League six times, taking their tally to a record eight triumphs, three clear of their traditional foes.