IN CAIRO, EGYPT
Egypt has dominated African football for decades, both at club and national level and it is easy to understand why.
One, they keep their best players at home by paying them well. Egypt’s 2006 Afcon winning squad consisted entirely of home-based players save for Mido (then with Tottenham Hotspur). Only six players of the 2008 winning side were foreign-based and their 2010 champion team had 20 of the 23 players based at home. This year’s squad that was knocked out in the second round had 15 local-based players in their squad.
Two, Egypt’s best players largely feature for their two top clubs, Al Ahly and Zamalek.
A visit to Al Ahly Sporting Club situated in the Giza Governorate, Cairo reveals first-hand the superior facilities that are at the disposal of not just their football team but 19 other sporting disciplines.
On an ordinary day the club is a beehive of activity. Restaurants are full, many youth and adults in training kit are up and about. It feels like a favourite family outing day.
The club has over 50,000 paid up members. Membership costs about 10,000 Egyptian Pounds (about Sh62,500).
However, Al Ahly, which has two branches in Nasr City and 6th of October City in Cairo, is believed to have close to 40 million supporters making it the most followed club in Egypt.
The main lobby of the club house showcases the achievement of the club in pictures depicting triumphant teams of the past and a bulging, trophy laden cabinet.
The achievements are matched by impressive facilities at the club.
Al Ahly SC have four, immaculately looking football pitches that are used for practice by the various age-grade teams of the club and a main stadium that has a seating capacity of 20,000.
“We use the stadium for our senior team training and playing some friendly matches. But for league matches and African club fixtures we have to use Cairo International Stadium because our fans are so many. This stadium will not be enough,” said Al Ahly media officer Amgad Aly.
The club is planning to build a new stadium at Sixth October City in Cairo with a capacity of 60,000 spectators. When complete, it will be the third largest stadium in Egypt.
Other facilities include a four lane tartan running track, several astro turf pitches that can stage hockey, basketball, handball and tennis games, and a swimming complex.
There are two Olympic Games standard gymnasiums that are used for volleyball, basketball and handball. Al Ahly’s other distinction is in women’s volleyball.
Kenyans will best remember Al Ahly for their many battles for supremacy over the years with club continental queens Kenya Pipeline, Kenya Prisons and KCB.
But football is where the greater fame for Al Ahly has come from.
They were declared the African Club of the Century by Caf.
They are the most decorated football club in Africa and the world with a record 40 national league titles, 36 national cups titles, and 10 national super cup titles.
Al Ahly first entered in African club competitions in 1976 and have won a record eight Champions League titles, a Caf Confederation Cup and an unprecedented six Caf Super Cups.
They won bronze medal in the 2006 Fifa Club World Cup, the best showing by an African club to date.
Former greats of the club include Sabet El-Battal, Mohmoud El-Khatib, Magdy Abdel-Ghany, Hany Ramzy, Mohamed Aboutrika and Essam El Hadary.
The Egypt team that participated in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Cup had four Al Ahly players including star goalkeeper Mohamed el Shenawy.
Their fully fledged communication department that includes an official radio station can trumpet all these successes to their considerably following and the rest of the world.