Whatever happens in the Caf Champions League final, Patrice Carteron ought to be able to look back on the last five months with Al-Ahly and reflect on a job well done.
Indeed, the Frenchman has overseen a remarkable turnaround since taking Africa’s biggest club job in June, and the Red Devils’ fine revival could conclude with victory over Esperance in the continental double-header…and a record-extending ninth African title.
Ahly have been made to wait for five years for a Champions League title, the longest they’ve been without continental gold since 2001, when they defeated Mamelodi Sundowns to win their first crown since 1987.
Earlier in this campaign, it looked as though their winless streak would be extended.
Who are your favourites for the @CAF_Online Champions League final?— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) October 25, 2018
They took just one point from their opening two group-stage matches.
Notably, their imperiousness was memorably demolished when they were defeated 2-0 away in Kira by KCCA FC—group-stage debutants and the first Ugandan side to reach this stage of the competition.
Ahly laboured for much of that contest, and were undone in the final 16 minutes when Ibrahim Sadam Juma and Timothy Awany scored late for the hosts, to leave the Egyptian heavyweights staring into the abyss.
This loss prompted a change of management; Hossam al-Badri moved on, and in came Frenchman Carteron, tasked with overseeing a revival.
The 48-year-old has considerable pedigree, having won the Champions League and two league titles with Tout Puissant Mazembe, as well as guiding Mali to third at the Africa Cup of Nations.
He quickly set about doing things his way, signing the experienced Salif Coulibaly to add nous to the backline, while also managing to get the best out of the experienced Walid Soliman.
The European coach has also had to negotiate the absences of some of his key players, having been deprived of Nigeria international Junior Ajayi and influential full-back Ali Maaloul, a key man during last year’s run to the final.
Under Carteron, in Africa, Ahly have won six, drawn one and lost one, and he deserves immense credit for getting a handle on Africa’s biggest club so quickly and prompting such a significant turnaround.
At Mazembe, Carteron was well aware of the value of the club’s immense fanbase, and actively sought to get the supporters onside and make the Stade Lubumbashi a fortress where visiting fans feared to tread.
Similarly, at Ahly, he realised that the key to getting the best out of the heavyweights would be to focus on some of those intangibles which had underpinned their successes of the past.
“The first objective for me really was to give the team a soul again,” he told Ahly TV upon his arrival.
“It’s important for me to be capable, to change in order to trouble our opponents and to be even stronger.”
Carteron also freshened things up on the field, giving players who had previously been out of favour under the old regime, the opportunity to impress.
This ‘amnesty’ of sorts increased the morale and generated a sense of revival within the squad.
It’s prompted goodwill and enthusiasm on the terraces as well—a far cry to the animosity that existed under al-Badri.
“I have always considered Ahly fans to be a partner in the victories that have been achieved,” Carteron told journalists ahead of Friday’s bout.
“They deserve the best, and I promise that we will put on a performance worthy of the name and history of the club.”
It could all end in tears; Ahly were defeated finalists against Wydad Casablanca last year after all, but while victory will be expected, even a loss ought not take away from Carteron’s outstanding renaissance act.