The very first sighting of Pitso Mosimane addressing Al Ahly players was certainly not a reassuring one!
A picture of Mosimane in what were his initial days with Al Ahly players gave the impression that his charges at the illustrious Cairo club were decidedly unimpressed with the former Mamelodi Sundowns gaffer.
If a picture can tell a thousand words, then every pixel in that one snap uttered a mouthful!
Here was Pitso Mosimane, a new king in the land of the Pharaohs, flashing cameras in front of him and a group of players at his back, doubt and misgivings written all over their faces.
A smirk here and an unsmiling face there were enough to convince many that he had lost the expensively assembled Red Devils dressing room before he had even taken ownership of it.
As Cecil John Rhodes learnt, conquering from the Cape to Cairo is not an easily achievable feat, and as the cameras snapped, a smiling Mosimane indeed looked a long way from home.
The journey to victory looked like it would be even longer. Fast forward, nine months later after that camera snap and the picture looks rosier for the man from Kagiso, west of Johannesburg.
The Club of the Century’s dressing room, packed with well-paid and highly respected talent from Egypt and the continent, has seen many coaches succumb to player power, shrinking in the dugout as they fail to tame the massive egos and personalities that drive the Red Devils.
This has not been the case for the man who cut his coaching teeth at SuperSport United. His celebration with Mohamed Magdy Ashfa after one of three Al Ahly’s goals against Tunisian giants Esperance over the weekend told a story on its own.
Gone were the glum faces that were a feature of that picture of the 56-year-old with what looked like skeptical troops.
Instead, as the Al Ahly players’ joy reverberated around an empty Al-Salam Stadium, Ashfa approached the bench and with a hand slap and a salute, showed the high regard with which Mosimane is now held by players at arguably Africa’s biggest club.
“With Afsha it’s a little bit of humour and he said ‘coach after a goal this is how we should celebrate’. He taught me how to do it. I like to do it because it’s related to the goals,” the two-time Caf Champions League winner said when asked about the celebration.
The elaborate celebration had clearly made an impression. To many watching, that little hand slap was a sign of a shared bond between player and coach, and the salute was a sure sign of respect between a general and one of his most charismatic troops.
“Afsha, like all the players in the team, plays the role required of him at any time during the match, he is definitely one of the most important players in the team.
“I have a wonderful relationship with all the players, and this is an important thing in implementing the technical instructions and in raising the level of the team in general.
“The most important thing I emphasize in my sessions with them is the need to play for Al Ahly and defend its titles and history, and to achieve a history for themselves that they can be proud of in the future in front of their families,” explained Mosimane.
As the C-in-C of the Red Devils army, his task is to study the enemy meticulously and point out their strengths and weaknesses to the players so that they can exploit those as ruthlessly as they did against Esperance, to reach yet another Champions League final and will face Kaizer Chiefs in Morocco on July 17.
After leaving the trophy cabinet at Chloorkop overflowing with silverware, the former Bafana Bafana coach has always been hailed as a technical mastermind.
On the pitch, few teams in Africa seemed to have an answer to his marauding Sundowns side and a juggernaut, with him at the helm, is once again sweeping all before it at Al Ahly.
However, while his prowess as a tactician has never been doubted, it is his man management skills that are perhaps severely underrated.
Any team that faces a ‘Jingles’ side knows that they are coming against 11-men that would put their lives on the line for their mentor. He is the leader of men whose troops are ready to lay it all on the line for him.
“We have witnessed a good relationship between Coach Pitso and his players on and off the pitch,” ex-Ahly star Mohamed Fadl tells FARPost.
“As a former player, I can assure you that this kind of atmosphere makes all the players play for the badge and for their coach.
“I really like what Coach Pitso is doing with his players. In the previous match against Esperance of Tunisia, we saw how Mohamed Magdi Afsha went to celebrate with his coach, and it gives us the impression that Pitso has won the hearts of Al Ahly players. He is in control of the dressing room very well.”
While it might seem all fun and games when the goals are flowing, a good man-manager knows when to put the foot down when his chips are down and his charges lose their cool.
A great example of this came when Mahmoud Kahraba had a rush of blood to the head during a game against El-Gaish in February, reportedly refusing to shake his coach’s hand while giving him a tongue lashing.
A one-month suspension and an EGP200 000 [R181 740] fine followed, with Mosimane saying, “The name of Al Ahly is bigger than anyone.”
For Fadl, this is further evidence of a man in firm charge. “You’d remember when Al Ahly player Mahmoud Kahraba acted badly against the coach after one of the domestic League matches, the coach showed him another face and punished him very well by preventing him from playing matches for one month,” adds Fadl.
His reputation as a commander who is in close touch with his foot soldiers precedes him. Former SuperSport United star Ricardo Katza once recalled how, on the verge of a major move from Hellenic to Mosimane’s Matsatsantsa, the enigmatic coach invited him for lunch together with his girlfriend.
While he expected football talk to dominate that lunch hour discussion, he was surprised when it all bordered on his personal life.
“A coach might change his tactics, but never his style!” Ayman Atef, the editor of MySoccer24.com, tells FARPost.
“Pitso is a smart coach technically but what makes a brilliant coach is his good relations with his players. He seems to be one of those who build team relations first to be able to get the best out of his players.
“For any team player, not only Egyptians, it would be great working in a friendly atmosphere where one feels secured and backed up by their leader,” adds Atef.
As the nine-time African champions enter the final stretch of another successful Caf Champions League campaign, Mosimane’s coaching style seems to be bearing fruit.
As they march tantalizingly closer towards yet another victory in the Africa Safari, it is not only their stellar display that has caught the eye. It is the dedication of players to their coach and vice versa, that has caught the imagination.
“It’s really an honour to work with Coach Pitso,” Walter Bwalya recently told FARPost.
“Everyone knows what he wants in his career and everyone in the team knows what they need to do.”
And as Pitso Hamilton Mosimane continues to endear himself to the Al Ahly dressing room, one thing is clear – the man is incessantly mastering the art of dynasty-building!
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By Mthokozisi Dube