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Saturday, September 30, 2023

How Jesualdo Ferreira led Zamalek to repeat as Egyptian Premier League champions

Monday’s victory by Future FC over closest contenders Pyramids FC was enough to clinch a second consecutive Egyptian Premier League title for Zamalek with three games left to play, making it their fourteenth domestic league title and the fourth time the Cairo club won Egypt’s top division in consecutive seasons. For Zamalek manager Jesualdo Ferreira it was the fourth trophy for the Portuguese tactician and marked a successful return to the club after previously guiding the White Castle to a domestic double during the 2014-15 season. Ferreira’s performance this season was a masterclass in getting the best out of his squad despite arriving at a club in crisis.

When the 76-year-old was called back to lead Zamalek in March and replace the outgoing Patrice Carteron, it looked highly unlikely that the club was capable of winning any trophies this season. A transfer ban meant that Ferreira could not bring in any reinforcements and a return to the bench saw his first match end in a home defeat to Moroccan titans Wydad AC, eliminating Zamalek from the 2021-22 CAF Champions League at the group stage for a second consecutive season. With rivals Al Ahly and an in form Pyramids FC team setting the pace in the league at the time it appeared Zamalek supporters would need to prepare for a season of humiliation.

Ahmed Sayed “Zizo” led the Egyptian Premier League in both goals and assists this season

After going over six months without a goal for Zamalek, Tunisia national team striker Seifeddine Jaziri found his form at a crucial stage

The return of Ferreira gave the club hope, however, considering his previous achievement of winning the domestic double in the 2014-15 season and the veteran manager had a plan. His attack remained strong with Achraf Bencharki and Ahmed Sayed “Zizo” able to provide goals while Tunisia national team striker Seifeddine Jaziri was in a serious goal drought. It appeared Jaziri was set to leave the club but Ferreira kept faith in the Tunisian and helped him regain his form by using him as a substitute until the goals began to arrive in June. Ferreira’s patience saw Jaziri reward him with a stretch of eight goals in nine league matches from late June to early August and Zizo ended a historically successful season as the league’s leader in goals and assists thanks in large part to his brilliance from set pieces.

Ferreira also improved the spine of his team by making bold decisions with his lineups. Egypt national team midfielder Emam Ashour found his best form following early season struggles, forming an effective partnership with previously little used Mohamed Ashraf Roqa in the middle of the park. Veteran center back Mahmoud Alaa was sent to the bench as Ferreira switched to a three-player back line and brought in youth team graduate Hossam Abdelmaguid and Mohamed Abdel Ghani. Zamalek won every match with Abdelmaguid in the lineup including the Egypt Cup final against Ahly. Using 36-year-old club legend Shikabala as an impactful substitute kept the temperamental playmaker a positive influence both on and off the pitch as well during a crucial stretch.

Emam Ashour after scoring the second goal in Zamalek’s 2-1 win over Al Ahly in the 2020-21 Egypt Cup final in late July

Youth team graduate and center back Hossam Abdelmaguid was promoted to the starting lineup by Ferreira and Zamalek never lost when he played

Emam Ashour’s brilliant goal to put Zamalek up 2-0 against Al Ahly in the Egypt Cup final, an important event during Zamalek’s run to the league title.

The final factor in Zamalek’s favor this season was the unusually congested schedule for Egyptian clubs this season. The group stage elimination from the CAF Champions League was a blessing for the club while rivals Ahly had a long stretch of playing matches every three or four days due to their run to the CAFCL final. Injuries and fatigue devastated Ahly over the final stretch as well as division within the club’s management, an issue that plagued the club from their incoming transfers before the season to the internal conflict that resulted in manager Pitso Mosimane’s dismissal. Mosimane’s successor Ricardo Soares is finding out first hand how the board’s division can impact his ability to manage Ahly with rumors already circulating around his job security.

Ferreira’s achievements as manager this season are another achievement to add for a well decorated coach who will be regarded as a club legend at Zamalek. Once derided as “a donkey