IT felt and looked like the end of an era — or from another perspective, the start of a new one.
As Tunisia’s “Red Devils”, Etoile du Sahel, celebrated their first ever success in the African Champions League, their
Egyptian counterparts, who go by the same nickname, shuffled off the big stage looking stunned.
This once dominant side had been on the verge of history — no-one had ever won a hat-trick of champions leagues before, and victory last Friday would have given Al Ahly a sixth title overall.
But on home turf in Cairo they were ambushed by a side with more verve, more pace and crucially, more finishing power.
Now the question has to be asked: is this the end of a wonderful Al Ahly team?
The reaction of the Al Ahly fans on the final whistle suggests the paying public certainly thinks so.
They were furious — and that anger prompted some disgraceful behaviour as the two sides went up to collect their medals.
That issue is dealt with elsewhere on this site, so let’s talk about the cause of their anger here.
“The point is the humiliation, the margin of defeat”, says the BBC’s Inas Mazhar, a Cairo-based reporter who was in the stadium.
“It was losing to a younger team. Al Ahly didn’t play as they should have played and the crowd didn’t expect that.”
It is true that the crown seemed to be slipping, even as Al Ahly moved into the last two of the continental championship.
Unaccustomed to defeat, they had gone down to both Esperance and Al Hilal in the group stages of the Champions League.
They have also been less than dominant in the Egyptian League this season — having claimed the title for the last three years.
Tiredness must be one factor.
The likes of Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat, Essam Al Hadary and Emad Motayeb have been playing non-stop for two years or more, as the Champions League, domestic competition, the World Club Championship and the Nations Cup have merged seamlessly together.
Coach Manuel Jose has been vocal in trying to get a break for his players — so far to no avail.
Maybe the team is also stale.
Fresh players have been brought in of course — look at Anis Boujelbene, who was CS Sfaxien’s captain in the 2006 Champions League final. He now plays for Ahly, who beat his side that day.
But the core of the team has remained the same over this period of huge success under Jose.
That’s understandable — you don’t change a winning line-up.
But Ahly are no longer winning, and the pressure for change will now be intense.
Whether the squad has the power to rejuvenate itself, or whether there has to be more drastic action, we will have to wait and see. — BBC Sport.