He stayed on after making history and breaking his own records. Eventually, he lost the trust of his own people and bowed out with mixed reactions.
The local tactician is adored in African football and beyond. He is the most successful coach with regards to the African Cup of Nations tournament, and his records with the Pharaohs will take a great deal for any successor to break.
Shehata’s exit as coach of the north African country was a classic case of anticlimax. The 61-year-old was hailed as a demi-god, who did the unpredictable.
He won the continental flagship back-to-back-to-back, a feat yet to repeat itself in Nations Cup history.
For seven years he terrorized African teams with his tactics that almost never failed. Between 2006 and 2010 he made both friends and foes on the continent. During that period he won the trophy three consecutive times.
The longest serving Egyptian coach could not transcend the African continent during his love fable with the Pharaohs. His biggest failure is the fact that he never managed to qualify for the World Cup with Egypt. He came close in November 2009, but a fiercely contested play-off with arch-rivals Algeria did not swing his way. That said he was still regarded as the most successful trainer in Africa.
Highest ranking ever
There are more records. During his tenure, the former Zamalek forward led Egypt to their highest ever Fifa ranking. They held on to the ninth slot for three months in 2010 – July to September. The seven-time African champions ruled the chart on the continent for a very long time before west African nation Ghana toppled them. It is no wonder he was ranked 14th worldwide in the Best Coaches chart for 2010 by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).
Coming fresh from Angola 2010 with his third consecutive trophy, The Emperor’s market value skyrocketed. Nigeria were one of the suitors that approached him that same year to hold their hands and lead them to the World Cup, if only for a few months around the tournament, but he turned them down. He criss-crossed the continent, letting out secrets of his successes at Caf/Fifa organised events.
That glory did not last. The Master allowed loyalty to his employer, the Egyptian FA, to influence his decision and he clinged to his job. A difficult decision was made. The same bosses that cajoled him to remain with all the bumper enticements plotted his exit when the going got tough. Shehata should have read between the lines when everything began to bend in the 2012 Nations Cup campaign.
Out of 12 points, Egypt struggled to steal two. Four games with only two draws against the likes of Niger, Sierra Leone and South Africa in Group G is nerve-racking. His first game against Sierra Leone at home was a draw. Minnows Niger stunned the giants with a 1-0 win, before the 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa heightened the Pharaohs fear with another 1-0 victory in March.
The heat became unbearable last week. Shehata was held to a goalless draw at home by
Bafana Bafana. A result that makes it virtually impossible for the 2006 Nations Cup hosts to defend their title in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
They have two games left to redeem their image. However, it is obvious the Pharaohs have lost the magic that could have taken them to the 28th edition of the Caf competition.
With hindsight, the two-time Egyptian league top scorer [1976-77 and 1979-80], should have rejuvenate his team, but the grandmaster refused to send call-ups to the U20 and U17 squads to join the senior side, thinking he had a formidable and everlasting team, not knowing age was beginning to seriously tell in the Pharaohs squad. A point that he must not miss in his final notes before handing the reigns over to his successor.
In the world of love, it is often said the very one that makes you happy is the same one that makes you sad. Shehata brought many smiles to Egyptians, and was the very person taking them away.
He will forever be remembered in the annals of Egyptian and African football as the man who led the north Africans to their three consecutive African Cup titles and at the same time the very person essentially leading them out of the tournament for the first time. What an oxymoron!
Sadly, Shehata failed to read the signs on the wall and did not walk off the stage while the applause was loudest, instead waiting until the crowd turned and booed at him. What a sad way to end his love career with the Pharaohs, although the ups and downs throughout his journey have made for a fantastic story in itself.