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The Egypt-Bob Bradley Adventure in Review: Part 3
This is Part 3 of a five-parts series. Part 1 served as an introduction. This week, in Parts 2, 3 & 4, I review 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.
While Part 2’s overall theme was the things we might do well to learn from Bradley’s philosophy, this part is about some of the difficulties he encountered.
4. Lost in translation
This has to be counted as a major aspect of Bradley’s time in Egypt. I remember an article that appeared at the time Bradley was being considered for the Egypt job. It said that a crucial factor for Bradley’s success would be the quality of translation he would have. I couldn’t agree more. It’s one thing to translate any empowering speech as a generic “We’re gonna win this” and it’s another to convey in your translation the subtleties of language that make your words unique and heavy with meaning. This was especially important for someone like Bradley who wagers so much on the human element. It was also important in dealing with an FA like ours – one that requires you to be persuasive and insistent in order to get things done. And it was important for dealing with a media inclined to sensationalism like ours, but one that unfortunately remains important because everyone relies on it for information: not just the fans but players and FA members as well. The quality of translation Bradley was equipped with to fulfill these various roles was inadequate to say the least. Most of the time, there was no recognized translator at all and the task fell on Zaki Abdel Fattah’s shoulders – a job which he dutifully carried out but for which, it showed, he was poorly qualified.
It would have been very beneficial to our footballing community if Bradley was allowed to speak for himself and his values and to make himself heard via better translation. When I mentioned “lunatics running the asylum” in Egypt, I meant it was the general rule, but certainly, we do have a number of precious voices of reason and objectivity that make themselves heard in the country: Talaat Youssef, Hany Ramzy and Abdelaziz Abdelshafi to name a few. It’s a shame that poor translation held back Bradley from joining their rank. It’s a shame that Bradley didn’t insist more sharply on being provided with such a crucial element during his stay in Egypt.
5. Professionalism, directness, lack of diplomacy
In Bradley’s book, anything that was seen as able to boost the team’s chances of winning would be attended to; anything else would be definitively shut out. The latter category would include complaining about conditions surrounding the team, complaining about the FA’s uselessness, and responding to players dropped from the team who would take to the media to voice their grievances. These would always be seen as distractions to be disregarded. While this is an admirable attitude on the whole, what Bradley seemed to miss was that doing some of these things would have earned him respect and would have had indirectly useful effects for the team. I believe Bradley should have paid more attention to such politics as honing his public image, accusing the FA or demanding to sit with them or with players to make his stand on particular issues. Whether we like it or not, these things get a lot done in Egypt.
Regarding players dropped, I’m sure Bradley privately explained things very well to his players if the chance to sit privately came. However, the public statements would have been just as important. Public statements are heard by all players. Through them, players see the way things are done in the national team (which everyone aspires to be in) and they see what the policies of its staff are. These statements have often been non-existent or they’ve been ambiguous and contradictory. I’ll give an example. In February 2013, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary entered into a conflict of his own making with Bradley’s management by refusing to sit as a substitute in a friendly. He thought he could force Bradley’s hand to return him to his starting position by declaring to Bradley his sudden retirement from international football. Bradley, ever the direct professional, took him for his word and thanked him for his services. It was the right thing to do. Then, in a gradual about-face during the following months, Hadary built through multiple media appearances what amounted to an apology to Bradley about his behavior. He declared his readiness to be recalled if Bradley needed his services. A recall never happened. In the meantime, Diaa El Sayed was sidestepping every media question about Hadary by simply saying over and over again that he totally respects him and his great history. In the end, it made Hadary’s blood boil. He urged someone from the staff to come out and finally give a clear answer: “Is Hadary in or out?” That answer never came either.
I know the problem of translation played a role in this and other situations. But I’m sure Bradley’s disregard for the role of the media and the role of a public persona played its part too. He expected his professionalism to be met with the same from players. But he should have learned that, being a product of their largely unprofessional environment, when players get dropped, they inevitably think in a certain way. Bradley’s silence didn’t come across as professional or as having no time for that, but as question marks, as him taking random decisions, as “he doesn’t seem to know” and “someone should advise him.” Too often, Bradley has let this atmosphere breed.
The Gharib Comparison: It’s not yet clear what Gharib’s approach will be if faced with the same challenges as they simply haven’t faced him yet. Either that or he’s doing well to contain them. I can only hope that, as an Egyptian with previous experience as Shehata’s assistant, he’ll be better prepared to navigate his way through the tangled webs of players, media and FA politics. He has another advantage: for some reason, the “FA of Double Standards” looks much more willing to help him than they ever did Bradley. How much longer that will continue is uncertain.
6. A pool of locally based players
It’s true that Egypt’s league is one of the best, if not the best, in Africa. It’s also true that Egypt has achieved great success in African Cups with that pool. But in World Cup qualifiers, when Africa’s Europe-based squads give it their all for a chance to perform at the planet’s biggest football event, we’ve fallen short. Always very close but still, just short. We’ve been beset by unnaturally bad luck in terms of the qualifying formats and the opponents we face, true, but one has to wonder what could have been achieved if we had that little extra something that other teams benefit from: a larger Europe-based pool of talents. Its advantages are not so much in the level of talent itself (of which we have plenty in our league) as in the players’ mentality and the ways in which their talents get refined and marshaled to good use. This is a result of some of the best managers in the business being based in Europe. And the improved mentality is a natural result of European leagues’ sharper competitiveness: When you’re facing big teams weak in and week out, your nerves are bound to toughen up and be ready for the big occasions that World Cup qualifications call for.
Here is Bob Bradley addressing the issue last fall: “I think a lot about what Egypt needs to do when I leave to move up as a football nation. We all know that the last two years, with the league stopping and starting, players not knowing what’s happening with their careers, this doesn’t help anything. To build something for the future, you need to make sure young players are being identified, are being put in situations where they are in a professional environment day in and day out, and when they get to a certain level they are challenged to think about going to Europe. Don’t misunderstand me; this is not a knock on the Egyptian league. There has to be pride when a club develops a young player and then they see that player move up and on. What’s important is that, not just one time to get to the World Cup, but to try to push into the top level requires that you are getting more players moving up. And then when you’re playing against big teams, you have more to count on on that day. It’s not just a hope. Look I take all responsibility for 2 years but we took everything in 2 years and tried to make it better and we came up a little short. Hopefully some of the ideas, things we were trying to achieve can be carried on so that the next time the chance is even better. It’s not just every four years: can we win this one game? It’s not just drama and then when it doesn’t work some people point the finger. It’s got to be more concrete.”
The Gharib Comparison: Two years of stop-start football in Egypt have had one unintended but very positive result: local clubs have suffered economically and have been less able to hold on to their players as stubbornly as they used to in response to European offers. As a result, European scouts who had traditionally bypassed high-priced Egypt in their search for African players now see a new window of talent open up. Shawky Gharib can only benefit from this situation. Kahraba, Saleh Gomaa, Shikabala, Hamoudy, Ramy Rabia (and many others) are all recent movers out of Egypt, and more offers for our players are being reported in the news all the time. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe that a tangible 2018 Egyptian campaign is slowly taking shape.