Why Pitso took a coaching job in Saudi Arabia

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Pitso Mosimane during the SA Football Association press conference at Safa House. Photo: Gallo Images/ Lefty Shivambu
Pitso Mosimane during the SA Football Association press conference at Safa House. Photo: Gallo Images/ Lefty Shivambu


Pitso Mosimane is set to embark on another Arabian quest when he leaves the South African shores on Sunday to start a new coaching chapter at Saudi Arabia football powerhouse Al-Ahli Saudi FC.

Two years ago, in October 2020, the 58-year-old from Kagiso township in the West Rand left Mamelodi Sundowns and joined Egypt’s Al Ahly where he revived the north African giants’ status in continental football.

Some might see his move to Saudi Arabia as a downgrade, from guiding one of the continent’s best teams to coaching a side languishing in the first division in a country not known for its football prowess.

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Al-Ahli - who are as old as Orlando Pirates having been established in 1937 - were relegated from the Saudi Pro League last season.

It was the first time they had ever been demoted in the club’s history.

Being in charge of revival projects is what Mosimane says he thrives on and it won’t be different at the club that is based in Jeddah, a Saudi Arabian port city on the Red Sea known as a gateway for pilgrimages to the Islamic holy cities Mecca and Medina.

Addressing the media in a special press conference in Sandton on Thursday, Mosimane explained the mandate he gave his management team. 

READ: Pitso Mosimane’s mixed feelings about Safa House

“We gave MTSports a mandate to hand-pick a project that we thought is challenging and also to take us out of our comfort zone,” he said of the management agency that is headed by his wife, Moira Tlhagale.

While adding that there were “many offers from clubs and national teams”, Mosimane elaborated on why he chose Al-Ahli:

We checked a few offers and then we looked at the league and the expectations, and it’s also about us making history and keeping our legacy in that space [Arabic-speaking countries].

“We felt Al-Ahli is among the top four clubs in Saudi and it is also a little bit of a risk because we have to take the team back to the premier league, that’s our mandate.

“And, how beautiful it will be for the city of Jeddah - which everybody knows mainly from the religion side of Mecca - to make history and give the people of Saudi Al-Ahli back to the premier league.”

Pitso Mosimane and his team at a press conference in Sandton on September 29, ahead of his departure to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Supplied

Al-Ahli is considered one of the kingdom’s big four clubs alongside Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Nasser.

Mosimane added that, as much as he and his three-person support staff of analysts Musi Matlaba and Kyle Solomon, as well as fitness coach Kabelo Rangoaga, were all excited at the prospect of coaching in the Middle East, it was also a calculated risk.

“Of course, it’s a risk, but we have the experience. Of all the teams I have coached, we changed the status quo. I never arrived at a team where everything was alright.”

Mosimane cited the significant impact that he made at his former clubs Sundowns, SuperSport United and most recently, Al Ahly in Cairo:

When we were in Egypt, we turned the international programme around, which was not there for the last six or seven years. We got the team back to the Champions League, we got back to the [Fifa] Club World Cup, and we got back to win the CAF Super Cup.

“So, that was exciting and we left a good footprint in that space. If you look at my former team, Mamelodi Sundowns, we found it on position 14 and we had to turn the tables around. There was also a gap of six to seven years without a trophy ... never mind a league [PSL championship] or Champions League, just a normal [cup competition] trophy.

“Pressure was on us but we turned it around. We can say the same thing with SuperSport United. I think that was a major overhaul because of a team that hasn’t won a cup. We were a small team but we went to six cup finals in a row and won two and lost four. We played in the Champions League.”

He added: 

At least with Sundowns and Al Ahly, we had players who won the league [previously]. We believe we can turn around Al-Ahli and awaken the sleeping giant.

Mosimane is likely to make his debut in the dugout in a local derby against city rivals Jeddah next Wednesday.

Al-Ahli are placed seventh in the 18-team league after five games.

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