FEATURE: Will Gaston Sirino take Al Ahly to the next level?

When Khalilou Fadiga got into trouble for pilfering a jewel on the eve of Senegal’s 2002 World Cup run, it seemed as though their world would crash. What made it all the more ridiculous was the fact that he actually had the financial means of purchasing the said jewel.

I am not a jewel person, however, I know a good piece when I see one. I once went to the jewelers with my friends and I almost got into trouble because I pointed at pieces I perceived match their taste. The protection given to such pieces are inexplicable. Some treat the pieces as they would a new born baby. Often, you open the jewel box to behold your prized possession and realize how priceless it is.

Masandawana house a lot of jewels, and currently, the most prized is a target for record CAF Champions League champions, Al Ahly. The battle to keep him is on. Why do Ahly need Gaston Sirino, and why are ‘Downs so desperate to keep him? Born in Montevideo, the 29-year-old Uruguayan is one of the sleekest playmakers and game changers on the continent. Since his arrival in South Africa, Sirino has endeared himself to the heart of fans and opposition as well terrorizing and breaking defences. He has 11 goals in 32 appearances this season.

It is however his CAF Champions League performances that have endeared Al Ahly to him. Sirino possesses a deft touch, is fleet-footed and has an uncanny ability to break ankles. Sirino has created 5 Big Chances in the CAFCL this season, the most in the competition.  Hussein El-Shahat, Mohammed Hany and Mohamed Magdy have 2, the most in the Ahly squad. Rene Weiler’s defensive 4-2-3-1 may be a factor, but it also exposes the lack of a true playmaker. Walid Soliman is the closest they have to an orchestrator, but he isn’t cut from the same cloth as Sirino.

A combined Goals + Assists number of 5 puts him third in that ranking, with his three assists the most in the competition. In the second leg of the Quarter Final, against Ahly themselves, Sirino had a field day, and were it not for poor finishing and an inspired El-Shenawy, his numbers could have been higher. Sofascore rate him the best player to feature in this season’s CAF CL so far. His 1.6 dwarfs Junior Ajayi’s 1.5 successful dribbles per game and his arrival may require a change in approach. Sirino’s long ball accuracy is 2.4, Mohammed Magdy threads 5.8 long balls per game. He boasts 2.9 key passes per game, more than the entire Ahly squad, even though his pass accuracy is at 75%. This metric reveals a player who plays high risk passes in the final third most especially and always tries to set up his teammates for easy finishes.

Sirino is yet to miss a big chance. Ajayi has missed 3 already, with Sulaya and Kahraba the other culprits on two. However, where would he fit in specifically. Sirino currently plays in a 4-4-2 at Sundowns often as the number 8, where he drops off and has license to roam. It’s a position that suits him well as he can pick passes in between the lines and use his bit of trickery to create spaces for wingers. Themba Zwane has been the biggest beneficiary of this, with their one-two pass a constant view. At Ahly, Sulaya, Ajayi and Geraldo find their places in danger. Should he replace Geraldo on the right, It means Weiler’s narrow 4-2-3-1 would be upset. Sirino’s defensive numbers are average at best and he is best when left to wreak havoc in attack. How they manage his hot head is another topic entirely. He may have only achieved a yellow card this season, but Sirino while possessing the touch of genius is also prone to the occasional moment of madness. Egypt is more intense than South Africa, however, if Ahly purchase him, they would be getting a genius of inimitable quality that boosts their attack and gives the coach a room for flexibility.