If Jose Mourinho is Portugal’s greatest managerial export to European football, then Manuel Jose can rightfully claim the honour of being the nation’s greatest managerial export outside of the old continent. The two men’s paths crossed surreally as each went on to create his own legacy.
A mediocre midfielder in the 1970s, Jose hung his boots at the age of 32 and took charge of his last playing club, Sporting de Espinho in the Portuguese second division. Two decades of success ensued with various clubs in his homeland, most notably Sporting Lisbon. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that Jose was introduced to the club that would transform his managerial career from “good” to “legendary”.
Manuel Jose had just lost his job at Uniao de Leiria as the club’s board decided to experiment with a young, unproven manager named Jose Mourinho. Then 54 years old, Manuel Jose packed his bags for a first career move outside of his country, signing for Cairo’s Al Ahly. Mourinho, meanwhile, would go on to lead Leiria to a fifth-place finish, having ended the previous season at tenth under Manuel Jose.
Upon his arrival across the Mediterranean, Manuel Jose delivered immediately, bringing Egypt’s most popular club their first CAF Champions League title in 14 years alongside the domestic Super Cup. Despite a season that is still best remembered for the 6-1 demolition of Cairo rivals Zamalek, Jose was soon enough introduced to the volatility of Arab football. A continental triumph did not spare the Portuguese the sack at the end of the season for failing to deliver the league title.
Little did Jose know then he would be back to ‘The Red Castle’ three years later to build a dynasty that would see him stake a claim for title of the greatest coach in the history of Arab and African football.
Having developed a better understanding of the demands and environment of Egyptian football, Jose set about rebuilding the spine of Al Ahly, scouting, then insisting, the club sign a young midfielder from midtable side Al Tirsana.
It proved to be one of the most astute signings of recent times as Mohamed Aboutrika went on to become a club and country legend. His exploits with The Reds saw him named the 2008 BBC African Footballer of The Year, three years after another Manuel Jose signing, Mohamed Barakat, won the award in 2005.
The duo, alongside iconic goalkeeper Isam El Hadary and another one of Jose’s discoveries, Emad Meteb, lifted Al Ahly to new heights as the club dominated to levels never seen before in Egyptian and African football. Manuel Jose’s men went on an incredible 71 match unbeaten run between July 2004 and January 2007.
Aboutrika’s left-footed volley goal in the dying moments of the 2006 CAF Champions League final against Tunisia’s Club Sfaxien would become the defining moment of the Manuel Jose era. Al Ahly’s 2006 season was without a doubt the greatest in the club history as they came within a whisker of recording a historic sextuple, only losing to an Alexandre Pato-led Internacional side at the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final before finishing third to become the first African team to climb the competition’s podiums.
Earlier that year, Jose’s men had lifted the Egyptian League, Egypt Cup and Egyptian Super Cup trophies before dominating the continent, adding the CAF Champions League and CAF Super Cup to complete a spectacular nap hand of trophies.
Following a six-year spell in which the club reached four consecutive Champions League finals, winning three of them, Jose tried his luck at international football, taking Angola to the quarter-final of the 2010 African Cup of Nations. The Portuguese also had a brief, unsuccessful stint in charge of Saudi Arabia’s Ittihad before returning to his spiritual home at Al Ahly in 2011, to win a sixth league title in Cairo.
Tributes poured in from Egypt and across Africa and the Arab World as ‘The Magician’ announced his retirement from management earlier this year. Retired defensive rock Wael Gomaa was another that made his name under Jose, and he recalls how his transfer to Al Ahly came about.
“When Jose first signed for Al Ahly, he came to watch them play Ghazl El Mahalla before he officially took over”, said Gomaa. “Back then, I played for Ghazl. He spotted me and later recommended the club signs me. He is a strong and incredible character”.
Mourinho might forever be recognised as the best Portuguese coach of all time, but for the Ahlawy, there will always be one Jose.
Wael Jabir is an editor and writer at Ahdaaf.me