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The Egypt-Bob Bradley Adventure in Review: Part 2
This is Part 2 of a five-parts series. Part 1 served as an introduction. This week, in Parts 2, 3 & 4, Andrew reviews an assortment of general aspects of the Egypt-Bob Bradley adventure, most of which are off-the-field matters (but still have a connection to football). Parts 5, to be published next week, will have a more technical footballing focus.
1. A willingness to learn
In a society where the words “I don’t know” are avoided like the plague, and winging it is, for many, a way of life to mask a limited knowledge, Bob Bradley’s philosophy when first coming to Egypt was like a breath of fresh air. He would often say in the first few weeks of his time here “I don’t come with all the answers.” He’d stress the importance of listening to many different voices before forming a personal opinion. Among his staff and players, he would encourage others “to say constructive things that others (including the coach) might not want to hear” (Wahl, 2013). Assistant coach Diaa El Sayed has stated that at times he was able to convince Bradley to change his mind about something while at other times Bradley would hold to his own opinion. That is of course the basis of any constructive partnership. And lest anyone think Bradley’s humble attitude betrays a poor grasp on football, here is one interview, among others, that go some way in proving the opposite. No matter what you think of Bradley as a football manager, his knowledge of the game is undeniable.
The Gharib comparison: As far as humility goes, Gharib doesn’t fare half as well. He’s often insufferably self-glorifying. It has to be said though that it’s rarely at the expense of others. He does listen to people around him. But his habit of responding to journalistic questions coming his way with a eulogy of himself and his work partners is irritating and counterproductive.
2. An exemplary work ethic
Bradley didn’t invent the habit of attending league games to scout for players but the extent to which he applied it was certainly something new in Egypt. At the majority of games, at least one member of the national team staff could be seen in the stands. The amount of information a coach gains by this practice (as opposed to watching the games on TV) is important. When it came to national team camps, Bradley would sometimes get criticized for the large number of players he would call up. It would be regarded as a lack of focus. I see it as one more instance of Bradley’s expansive knowledge-gathering, wanting to get a look at every player personally. When quizzed on TV about our deficient defense in our defeat to Ghana, he was able to declare, and with much truth, “We had a look at everyone.”
Player selections were just one of Bradley’s occupations. Studying games was another. Diaa El Sayed once joked on TV that Bob was “killing” the staff by making them watch over and over a game the team had just played. On the eve of Egypt’s loss to Ghana, goalkeepers coach Zaki Abdel-Fattah stated that the staff had shown the players video excerpts from the last eight games Ghana had played, explaining to each player the strengths and weaknesses of the Ghanaian he was expected to face. According to Abdel-Fattah, Bradley always wants “the perfect game”; even though he knows it’s impossible, he’ll try to get his team as close to it as possible. He’ll talk to players individually after every game, helping them see the things they did well and those they could have done better.
Far from being a show-off, Bradley quietly carried out his work. His efforts could have gone perfectly unnoticed if it weren’t for these odd reports from people who saw him work up close. FA board member Hassan Farid and retired player Abdelzaher El Saka are two examples of people who used to be critics of Bradley, only to switch to praise for the Bob Bradley method after they witnessed it in person. Coaching a national team is, as a rule, less intensive than coaching a club, but from day one, Bradley described his job as “an everyday job” and only took one yearly holiday outside Egypt. What’s more, a few weeks before one World Cup qualifier, Bradley revealed that his wife was for a while staying away from him in the US until the game. “She knows me,” he said, referring to his mind being absolutely bent on the coming game.
But Bradley’s methods were not applied only to football. One of the most laughable moments of his time in Egypt came when some people started to raise eyebrows about his unfaltering resolve to stay in Egypt despite all the troubles and, not knowing any better, after hearing some semi-political public comments by the American, they suggested he might be a US spy. At the time, Bradley defended his political remarks very simply saying that the political climate affects his players, which is why he can’t separate it from the football. “I believe that when I come here, I have to be involved. I don’t think we can be successful if, as the national team coach, I ignore everything that’s going on around me.” The answer shouldn’t be surprising. This is a man who, while deliberating the possibility of working in Egypt, consulted with a Princeton professor concerned with grassroots movements!
The Gharib Comparison: This is an area where we can have faith in the future. Bradley has set the bar high, but Gharib has always seemed to be a hard-working guy. He already has knowledge about many players from the time he assisted managing our national team under Shehata, and now, he’s repeated Bradley’s practice of personally watching as many league games as possible from the stands with the same kind of dedication. The roster for his first friendly game was released as a sheet complete with heights and weights of all players. Gharib also collects in-game statistics such as the number of correct passes for each player and seems to know what kinds of conclusions he can draw from them: for example, he used data about defenders to show that we were building possession from the back during the Bosnia game rather than playing long balls.
3. A great humanity, and a fighting spirit
Bradley’s meticulousness might suggest a cold and calculating man, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here’s an illuminating quote from Daryl Shore, a former assistant of Bradley in the US: “The main thing with Bob is he can be that competitive and he cares relentlessly for people. You could be the beat writer or the ball boy or a trainer or the high-priced forward, and he’d care relentlessly. He’d treat you the same.” (McGinnis, 2013) Here’s another from Jeffrey Stout, the Princeton professor mentioned above: “Here’s somebody who gets up every day and asks, ‘How do I do the just thing to other people?’ Now you have a coach and a player [Aboutreika] who are both like that? It’s unusual to have either of those things in any team, anywhere. The players are gathering around it – that level of human beings, coming from these different worlds.” (Wahl, 2013) Bradley’s humanity has been so well documented and witnessed over the past two years that I’ll be contented with these quotes here.
As for the fighter in him, the simple fact that he’s stayed, and then stayed, and then stayed in the face of overwhelming odds is proof enough of his commitment to the task at hand, to the challenge, even as it all threatened to fall apart and the outcome was less than certain. Said Bradley: “If I’m saying to the players over and over we can’t let anything distract us, we can’t let anything get in the way, then I have to be the number one person to show them how to do it.” “He’s conducted himself with a lot of honor,” said Abdul Rahman Magdy, for a time Bradley’s translator. “What he does is adapt. There’s no league? Fine, there’s no league. No matches? Fine, there’s no matches. No fans? Then there’s no fans. That’s why everyone likes him. He doesn’t complain.” Right after Bob left us, Diaa El Sayed was asked on TV what he thought of Bradley as a coach. The first thing he said, before talking about football, was: “He taught me about courage in the face of adversity.”
Besides some reported offers (including a purported Australian national team offer), if Bradley was looking for a comfortable life – and probably a better paid one – he could have easily left anytime and went back to coaching in the US’s Major League Soccer where his exploits were still well respected. A couple of discouraged voices in Egyptian media managed to find something to criticize even in his resolve, accusing him of giving false hope by not publicly confessing the improbability of success! These were only one or two odd voices, but if they attest to anything, it’s how different Bradley was compared to what we’re used to from other coaches: quitting jobs supposedly to preserve their coaching history, when really they’re just masking weakness of character. As Bradley’s brother Jeff tweeted before the Ghana games, quoting Roosevelt… “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood… who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The Gharib Comparison: It’s hard to make a comparison here because Gharib is a man of many words. It’s possible that beneath the words he is a genuinely good person but I can’t presume to know. However, being Egyptian, as well as an earnest personality, the motivation will not be found missing. I think we can rest assured that he is giving the job all his heart.