Bob Bradley took over as national team coach of Egypt at the worst possible time. A few months into the revolution of 2011, not only football, but the entire country was in a time of upheaval, and the future was anything but clear. Worse was to follow as a few months after taking over from the popular Hassan Shehata, Bradley saw officials suspend the country's football league after more than 70 people died during the Port Said Stadium disaster.
The former USA national team coach Bradley, whose last game in charge of the Pharaoh's could be Tuesday's return leg in a FIFA World Cup Brazil™ play-off against Ghana in which the North Africans need to overcome a 6-1 deficit, said he did not go into the job blindly. "I understood it was a big challenge, but it was not only a challenge for me, it was a challenge if you are a taxi driver looking for fares, if you are involved in the tourism industry or simply if you are a father looking to feed your family. I knew it was a tough time for all Egyptians."
The coach said that he decided when he took over that he was going to focus his energy and his efforts on the players and on being positive. "I did not want to look at all the negatives. Egypt, in the moment, sadly, is divided, a divided country, and I told the players we must be different. We must be united. We must find a way, where we can not only be strong as a team, but maybe be a good example for everyone."
Bradley and his technical staff are aware that they will need a major footballing miracle to overturn the 6-1 defeat from Kumasi. "For two years, we have represented Egypt, and we represented Egyptian football in a strong, proud, good way. 90 minutes in Kumasi did not change that. Yes, it was a terrible result, we accept that. But it does not change the way these players and the coaching staff have represented Egypt during a tough time in a way that I feel people can still feel good about."
Making Egypt stronger
The 55-year-old has spent a lot of time thinking about what needs to be done to make Egypt stronger. "Whether I leave after the next match or after Brazil, I think a lot about what Egypt needs to do to move up as a footballing nation. Of course, as a starting point, we all know that the last two years with the league stopping and starting and stopping and starting, players not being paid, players not knowing what is happening with their careers, we all know that this does not help anything."
He urged clubs to allow players to move abroad. "When young players get to a certain level, they should be challenged to think about going to Europe to bigger clubs. If Egypt wants to grow as a football nation, you have to have more players playing in big teams. When we look at the teams that have been most successful in Africa, the most talent, the big names on those teams are all playing in Europe and have all been playing in Europe for a long time. They are playing for big clubs in Europe."
He stressed that he did not want to criticize domestic football in the country, which is celebrating another CAF Champions League trophy for the most successful club in African football, Al Ahly. "But if Egypt is going to grow and compete with the best teams, not only in Africa, but in the world, the challenge for young players is to move on as professionals and try to push to play in the biggest clubs."
Finally, fans return
The return leg against Ghana will be the first time that the Pharoahs' play in Cairo in front of fans during Bradley's tenure. "It is incredible. I have been here for two years and not had the opportunity for our national team to play in Cairo in front of all the fans that would want to be there. The history of football in Egypt is a proud one and so many great games were in Cairo, so it means a lot to the players. They deserve this, they have earned this and now we hope to feel the passion and the support of the Egyptian fans in the stadium, as well all the ones who cant make it."
Stopping short of saying that he was definitely leaving after the game against Ghana, Bradley said that he and his wife had enjoyed their time in Cairo. "In these two years, my wife and I have had great experiences in Egypt. I can't tell you how many good people we have met, I can't tell you how much we respect the way we have been welcomed and the response we have gotten from the people of Egypt. We will always thank all Egyptians for this gift. These have been two very, very good years for us and we thank all Egyptians for that. When I leave, I can always feel I left in a proud way and that the future of Egypt is one that can be strong and positive."