Friday, September 23, 2011
Seven keys to success for Bradley
He sat behind the table in his navy blue suit and light blue shirt. Cameras flashed in front of him. Pursed lips and a sly smile occupied the face, but it was all in his eyes. His eyes took everything in: the body language of the people there, the mannerisms. The frenzied hand gestures of the people he will serve.
Marco Tardelli's appointment as Egypt boss in 2004 had crazed the nation. His exploits as an Italian legend preceded him. The expectation was huge. Fans wanted to get to the next World Cup in Germany badly. Egypt's long search had begun after the previous African Nations Cup in Tunisia had ended with Mohsen Saleh unable to lead them past the group stage.
The new boss from across the Mediterranean began work after a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. He lasted 193 days, fired after a defeat to Libya and, before he left, one Egyptian journalist spat: "When you were boss at Inter you managed to lose 6-0 to Milan. You were also the reason Pirlo and Ferrari did not play for Inter. We should have known better than hire you."
Hassan Shehata took over. The rest is gathering dust on the history shelves.
Fast forward seven years. Bob Bradley first spoke to the Egyptian media last Wednesday, just like Tardelli did that March afternoon. This time, the hopes are not that high because few know of Bradley's playing career at Princeton University.
Bradley's remit is summed up in two words: World Cup. He knows it. "[Egyptian Football Association chairman] Samir Zaher talked to me about that and stressed that playing in the World Cup represents the main objective. I'm sure I can fulfill it." If he is to succeed, there are some things he should know.
1) Loosen up
This is 2011 and Bob Bradley still says he is "not quite up to speed with e-mail". He prefers the personal touch. The people and journalists in Egypt have not had the buzz about his arrival because they do not see his personality and charisma leading them to Brazil 2014. Many have focused on the 'talent versus technical ability' side of things, but Bradley's first victory in Egypt should be getting the media on his side.
As is usual in this part of the world, being American alone is the first thing Bradley has to deal with. The stereotype is firmly against him and he would do well to deal with the press with a sprinkling of good cheer. Lose the serious, impersonal look. Smile. Try a few Arabic phrases. He should appear at press events sounding less like he already knows the people and more like he wants to know them better.
Egyptian football journalists, unlike what he's used to Stateside, push their opinions when questioning. Once he wins the media over, his nationality won't be an issue. Egyptians are very tolerant and friendly towards foreigners, and political feuds usually don't affect that.
The way he came in sent a slightly positive signal to the fans, though there's more work to do. Egyptian journalist Tamim Elyan Diaa told ESPNsoccernet: "Bradley was in a competition with Colombian [coach Francisco] Maturana and two Serbians, Zoran Bilovic and ex-Ghana boss Milovan Rajevac, but the EFA preferred him after he expressed clearer enthusiasm for the post and was willing to give financial concessions. He seemed to have a project for the Egyptian national team that he was personally interested in."
2) Exploit the 'underdog' tag
Bradley can draw on his exploits as a silent achiever. People have always doubted him, largely because he has been hired almost as an afterthought most of the time. Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, exercised a global search for a high-profile foreign coach before giving the job to Bradley in 2007, first on an interim basis and then making it permanent before the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa America.
The man used it to his advantage. He got stick when the team crashed out of the Copa in Venezuela after losing all three games, but he learned quickly and played the underdog role well. Bradley may be aware that his monthly salary of $40,000 is the same as Tardelli was given seven years ago. It's also a fraction of what Qatar were offering. The amount is a financial sacrifice that Bradley must milk for all it is worth in this most political of African football nations.
3) It's not just the national side, Bob
The current demise of the national team has, as usual, reverberated across its club football as well. Due to the fact that the national team has been so locally composed for so long, success or failure at international level has meant similar fortunes for Egypt's top sides who supply the talent.
With the current so-called 'golden generation' fading, the decline also took its toll on high-profile Egyptian clubs, with Zamalek exiting the African Champions League at the first hurdle and Ahly failing to get past the group stage. Egypt has a lot of football legends but Bradley can cement his status if his success in tactics and personnel creates a domino effect at club level as well.
4) Egypt need new faces
On this, the Pharaohs should not be worried. Bradley likes giving youth a chance. In 2007, months after getting the USA job, he told the New York Times that "it is important to challenge some of veterans to take bigger roles and to work to bring those things together".
Same here, big guy. Egypt's ultimate goal - to end an absence from the World Cup dating back to Italia '90 - is not being helped by an apparent recent dip in form amid calls for some veteran players to hang up their boots. It's hard to bench players like Al-Ahly playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika and Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan but, if anyone can do that, it's Bradley.
Bradley has talked about Egypt's talent. Luckily for him, the graduates of last month's Under-20 World Cup in Colombia are raring to go. Egypt were kicked out by Argentina in the round of 16, but the lads gave the nation hope. Zamalek attacking midfielder Mohamed Ibrahim, Masry goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawy and Ismaily central defender Ahmed Hegazy should certainly be staples in future Bradley teams.
5) The 'foreigner' wildcard
It is here that Bradley will need to use his influence as a foreigner. It is hard as an Egypt boss to look beyond the players from the big three teams. Just before Tardelli was fired in 2005, the press hounded him, with some justification, for fielding ageing Al-Ahly players while Zamalek had younger and better quality. Bradley's nationality is a plus in times like these. He would do well not get sucked into the fierce football politics in team selection.
Last month - well, before rumours of his link to the job were gaining ground - Bradley reportedly asked to see the training sessions of Arab Contractors and ENPPI. It is encouraging but he should also keep in mind the few eligible Egyptians playing abroad, like Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy. As has been the case elsewhere in Africa, getting these European-trained players brings a technical edge to overall play.
6) Part of the family
Even before being confirmed as boss of the Pharaohs, Bob had been liberally quoted analysing the shortfalls of Egypt while juxtaposing them with the US national team and outlining what he'll do. "The Egyptian players are very good. In the US, we worked to prepare the team in all ways - technically, tactically, physically, and I think this is important."
This "in the US" business must stop. He is in Egypt now. Again, going back to the last foreigner appointed to the job would give clues. In 2004, when Tardelli was brought on board, the Egyptian FA's then boss was Essam Abdel-Moneim. "Now he (Tardelli) is a real member of the Egyptian national team," he said. "He's a new Pharaoh and he's also become an Egyptian."
That is what Bradley must know, and it feeds directly into another stereotype he has to deal with. There is the assertion that Egyptian players are so 'traditional' that they do not get foreign coaches. This has stemmed from the length of former boss Shehata's reign in the job. There are reasons Shehata's reign can be markedly different from Bradley's regarding this issue.
It is not by coincidence that Shehata oversaw a golden era that yielded three consecutive African Nations Cup trophies during the Hosni Mubarak years. Shehata was pro-Mubarak, meaning - like the dictator - he had backing from all over the place.
The actual fact is that Egyptian players are accustomed to foreign coaches at their clubs and at national teams. Domestic coaches have always been more successful than their foreign counterparts with national teams because of their much better understanding of the players' psychology and familiarity with their backgrounds.
The importance of being a family man in this society that believes in relationships cannot be overstated. In the US, calling players to check on their families, kids and extended families can be filed under 'weird'. The typical Egyptian player sees it as 'care'.
7) Who'd be in the dugout?
When Jurgen Klinsmann was chosen as Bradley's successor with the US team, most journalists were not ready to herald good tidings immediately. What concerned them was who the German would make his assistant, because it would be a mark of the playing style they could expect. The same situation is playing out in Egypt.
Bradley's move was widely believed to have been expedited by Zaki Abdel-Fattah, an Egyptian American. He was USA's former goalkeeper's trainer and played for Mehalla, where he was born, in the 1980s when the team was a force in Egypt.
Though he was a fringe player in the national team during that time, Zaki should be integral in the present regime. Crucially, Bradley has worked together with Zaki since he moved Stateside in 1994. Although Egyptian officials have been quoted as saying Zaki is "exaggerating his financial demands", Bradley must force the deal through because he would need someone he trusts to deal with teething problems.
Egypt's Olympic coach would also be great for Bradley's style. Known for giving youth a chance, Bradley was sometimes accused of over-relying on young blood to the detriment of experience. Hany Ramzy is a proper grassroots coach who Bradley could use - not only because he is one of the most Westernised home-bred bosses, having played in Europe for 16 years, but also Ramzy's status is huge. CAF named him the 19th best African player in the last 50 years. Crucially, Ramzy understands the World Cup hunger from first-hand experience: he was part of the 1990 squad who last represented the country at that level.
• Gary Al-Smith is a freelance African football journalist for ESPN and is on Twitter - @garyalsmith