Al Ahly and Zamalek’s victories in the African Champions League this past weekend will go down as historic displays of Egyptian club’s widespread excellence in CAF competitions, fueling the argument: Is Egypt the best in Africa at club level?
We previously took a shot at answering what the best league in Africa in an article that raised just as many questions as answers. But in terms of just evaluating the strength of their best teams in, continental club competitions Egypt has a strong argument for being the best.
If we look at which teams have the most CAFCL titles, Al Ahly have twice as many (8) as the next highest (4).
After Al Ahly’s dynasty ended in the early 2010s along with the retirements of Mohamed Aboutrika and co, the likes of ES Setif, TP Mazembe, Mamelodi Sundowns, Wydad Casablanca, and Esperance de Tunis took turns holding the mantle. But it seems they were just keeping it warm for the sleeping giants of Al Ahly, who are primed to win their ninth CAFCL should they win the whole competition as many have predicted.
Zamalek on the other hand, tied in second place with Mazembe for the most championships, haven’t been too strong on the continental level since their dominance in the 1980s and 90s. In recent years however, they have made progressions towards becoming Africa’s best club. Although generally in the shadow of Al Ahly, the White Knights made the Champions League final in 2016, before winning the Confederation Cup last year.
Historically, Egypt’s top two clubs don’t really compare to anybody else except maybe the likes of TP Mazembe or the Tunisian giants.
In recent years Tunisia’s Esperance de Tunis have shown that they are a formidable force, winning back-to-back editions, but this year they are nowhere to be found. Looking more closely at this year’s edition and the semi-finals 1st legs, it’s likely that both finalists will be Egyptian after both Moroccan sides lost on home turf to the Egyptians.
Egyptian Dominance in Leg One
While we can’t look to closely at one game or even one season in determining the overall success of a club, it must be acknowledged that Egypt’s giants have awaken from their slumber and are poised to keep the CAFCL trophy in Egypt.
What has caused this though? We can look at causes on and off the field.
Starting with the matches, Al Ahly humiliated Wydad. The Red Devils were surely kicking themselves with the amount of chances they missed. The first half was relatively tight, but Pitso Mosimane’s men pulled away in the second half and didn’t really look back. Pitso, yet to lose a match with Ahly since taking the helm just three weeks ago, could probably see the light at the end of the tunnel as they departed Casablanca and headed back to Egypt to defend their lead in the return leg on Friday.
As for Zamalek, their victory over Raja wasn’t as convincing as they sat back and defended following their first-half goal, but questions must be raised to both Casablanca sides.
Their losing on home turf can be excused in part due to the absence of their notoriously raucous ultras, but what I find most embarrassing is that they lost to two managers who were new on the job.
I feared that Ahly and Zamalek would falter in the semis after both of their coaches departed within a few days of each other. “Weiler and Carteron were doing so well!” I thought. “How can anyone else collect the team and manage them to victory in their biggest match of the season after just a few weeks on the job?”
I must have underestimated the capabilities of Pitso Mosimane and Jaime Pacheco, as both entered the semi-final fixtures on nearly perfect form. Neither Pitso nor Pacheco have lost a game in their new positions, and both will be hoping this streak continues as the season wraps up.
As I mentioned earlier, we can’t look into one matchday all too closely. However, I think Egypt’s victories are the product of increased spending on transfers, especially in recent years.
This is especially true for Al Ahly, who have been able to use the sales of a few players to fund a large bulk of their new signings.
2016/17: Malick Evouna to Tianjin Teda (€7.25m), Ramadan Sobhi to Stoke City (€5m), Trezeguet to RSC Anderlecht (€2.2m)
2017/18: Ahmed Hegazi to West Brom (€6.00m) + €2m on loan sales
During these years the Red Devils have made tons of signings. Some have been very shrewd, while others have missed.
2016/17: Ali Maaloul from CS Sfaxien (€730k)*, Mohamed El Shenaway from Petrojet (€300k)*, Marwan Mohsen (€1m)
Maaloul and El Shenaway are arguably the best in their positions on the continent at the moment. It’s incredible that they were purchased for just over €1m combined.
The signings of Hussein El Shahat and Salah Mohsen are yet to pan out, although the recent additions of Aliou Dieng and Mohamed Magdy ‘Afsha’ look to be brilliant deals.
Ahly spent over €30m on new signings in the past five years. It seems that their spending has finally paid off.
Zamalek on the other hand have not spent as heavily as Ahly, but have made many excellent signings on the cheap.
The likes of Ferjani Sassi (who missed the first leg with coronavirus) and Achraf Bencharki spring to mind, but the likes of Kabongo Kasongo, Hamdi Nagguez and Mahmoud Alaa were all signed for under one million.
Let’s compare this to Wydad and Raja Casablanca. Wydad have not spent over €1 million in a given season since 2016/17, Raja haven’t since 2015/16.
Wydad have also not made many (if any) high-profile transfers in recent years. Most of their signings come from smaller Moroccan sides. Raja similarly poach talents from the Botola and bring through their own youth products instead of spending big.
Even worse, their two biggest sales (Achraf Bencharki & Mohammad Ounnajem) play for Zamalek!
The transfers tell a story themselves.
It would be a great feat if either of Raja or Wydad could come back on opposition soil to snatch a place in the final, but it seems unfortunate.
As for the Egyptians, their historic dominance over the continent’s footballing scene will likely continue.
Transfer figures via Transfermarkt.