2021 Yearender: Zamalek defy odds to snatch Egyptian league title

Ahram Online , Thursday 30 Dec 2021

Zamalek braved administrative instability to secure an unlikely Egyptian Premier League triumph in 2021, which was all the more sweet because it came under the noses of perennial Cairo rivals Ahly.


At one point, the White Knights' season seemed to be unraveling.

After the board of controversial chairman Mortada Mansour was suspended in late 2020 due to alleged financial irregularities, shortly following a painful loss to Ahly in the African Champions League final, the club changed hands three times.

A stop-gap chairman died and another had his entire board dissolved, with a third taking over on an interim basis at a crucial stage of the season.

League holders Ahly, who were eyeing a sixth successive title, had a chance to pull five points clear of Zamalek but a hectic run of fixtures, which came because the team had several games rescheduled due to their Champions League commitments, saw them drop vital points.

Zamalek's early Champions League elimination, which saw them wave goodbye from the group stage, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the team looked fresh in the final stretch of the league season, unlike a worn-out Ahly side.

The return of French coach Patrice Carteron revived Zamalek's fortunes as they embarked on an eight-match winning run to win the title with one match to spare after beating El-Entag El-Harby 2-0 on 24 August.

Zamalek's 13th league triumph -- their first in six years -- masked their off-field woes.

Celebrations were short-lived as the club were hit with a two-window transfer ban by world governing body FIFA for striking a new deal with youngster Hossam Ashraf after he had already signed for a Cameroonian academy.

The decision meant the club, which still face the risk of further sanctions over outstanding payments to former players and coaches, were unable to make any summer signings as their already thin squad took a fresh hit.

But Zamalek were allowed to welcome back their players who excelled while on loan spells last season, including wingers Mostafa Fathi and Moroccan Mohamed Ounajem.

A fine start to the defence of their league crown was interrupted by a stunning 5-3 Cairo derby loss to Ahly in November but Zamalek are still firmly in the race.

Carteron is still steadying the ship despite the mounting problems, with Zamalek level on 19 points with leaders Ahly after eight matches into the new season, even though the latter still have a game in hand.

Mortada Mansour was also reinstated as chairman as the club brace for fresh presidential elections next month, which the outspoken incumbent is expected to win with a landslide.

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