Selecting a new national coach for the Pharaohs took months and the final decision to opt for American Bob Bradley, who took his homeland to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, certainly ruffled a few feathers.
Many questioned why a coach with a much bigger international reputation was not recruited. “We are aware that most Egyptians only know him from the 2009 Confederations Cup, where the USA beat Egypt. But he has a good CV that made us select him,” says Samir Zaher, the Egyptian FA president.
Informed sources, however, claim the American was selected because he was the only one willing, amongst the three shortlisted coaches, to accept the terms on offer: a three-year contract, with a 30,000 euro monthly net salary.
Many wondered why Bradley decided to take on the job, in the midst of the uncertain political climate in the country.
But Bradley explained that before coming to Egypt, he consulted the relevant authorities and had no problems moving there.
“I spoke to those who lived and are still living in Cairo and they said it’s one of the best places to be. Egypt is a historical country and I’m fond of it, so I didn’t hesitate when I received the offer,” says the American.
Although Bradley started officially in October, he did not take charge of Egypt’s final two games in the 2012 qualifying series. Hany Ramzy, the former national captain, acted in the interim.
“Rebuilding the team is the priority,” Bradley says. “I’m aware that at this stage, Egyptians are eyeing the World Cup of 2014, so it is also my main task. I will not depend on particular players and I don’t care whether they are stars or not. All I want is players who can play good quality football and be at their peak during matches. Following the national domestic competition will help me select the players.”
Egypt’s friendly against five-time world champions Brazil in November was the first test for Bradley and the 2-0 loss in Cairo did him no favours.
On the domestic front, staging the national championship has been a huge challenge. Constant demonstrations at matches, where the fans stage political protests, with insufficient security to calm the situation, led to the delay of the current national championship till October. And things have hardly improved since then.
Hardcore fans from Ahly and Zamalek, running into tens of thousands, who played a vital role in the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tahrir Square, have had regular clashes with the police, which have led to several deaths and serious injuries.
The embattled FA claim they have done all they can to stem the tide of violence. They have imposed heavy fines on clubs whose fans are found guilty of these acts.
But it has hardly served as a deterrent, as the intensity of fan fury has only increased. Several fans are currently in custody and facing criminal trials.
An attempt to stage games behind closed doors failed, as the fans still went to the grounds and forced their way in.
Many of the clubs are facing bankruptcy as a result of the severe disruption to the league over the last year and the FA has been struggling to maintain its lucrative relationship with sponsors.
“There are calls to cancel the league competition this season, but this will have negative effects,” says Zaher. “The clubs will certainly go into bankruptcy, because the players will not train or play but they will insist on getting their monthly wages, even if the season is cancelled. And sponsors will certainly not honour their contracts if there is no competition.”
It is a dire situation that is not lost on the country’s football leadership.
“We have run out of ideas,” Zaher admits. “We have been meeting with the leaders of the fans [to stem the violence]. We don’t know what they need. The police, on the other hand, are retaliating, so we are also talking to them in the hope that order can be restored. Honestly, the future of Egyptian football is at stake.”
Two international sports events – the African qualifying event for the 2012 Olympic football tournament, as well the World Junior Squash Championship, which the country was supposed to stage, were moved to new venues for safety reasons.
These are the circumstances under which Bob Bradley is expected to ensure that Egypt qualifies for the 2013 Nations Cup and ends a 24-year World Cup absence by earning a ticket to the 2014 finals in Brazil.
Drawn in a second-round group with the Comoros, Guinea, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Egypt’s progress to the latter stages of the World Cup qualifying series ought to be a piece of cake.
But the disappointing memories of the last few years are a clear warning that it will be anything but easy.