Saturday, May 11, 2013
How life (and death) change Egyptian soccer and its American coach (Kevin Baxter
May 11, 2013, LA Times)
It probably wasn't the best time to take any soccer job in Egypt. Because of the violence the country's top domestic league was shut down twice, leaving the players without pay or a place to play. And when the government declined to provide adequate security, Bradley's team had to play its first World Cup qualifier in an empty military stadium.
Yet despite it all — or maybe because of it all — Bradley has Egypt a win away from the final round of qualifying for next summer's World Cup, a tournament it has played in just twice since 1930.
"In those difficult circumstances we were able to start to establish something, a trust and an understanding of the opportunity that we had to try to do something special during a time in the country when, honestly, everything's pretty difficult," Bradley says.
"When a national team steps on a field you need to make sure that people look on that field and feel proud. They feel like they're part of it. I think that certainly fits the situation and the challenges that we see here."
As astonishing as soccer's survival in Egypt may seem, however, the bigger surprise is that Bradley has become its savior. He was criticized as robotic, unimaginative, even dispassionate while leading the U.S. into the knockout round of the 2010 World Cup. Now, many in Egypt insist Bradley saved their team through his creativity, emotion and force of will.
The day after the February 2012, riots in the Suez Canal city of Port Said — an event Bradley called "a massacre" — the coach and his wife, Lindsay, marched with thousands of Egyptians in Cairo's Sphinx Square to honor the dead. They visited a memorial, where they spoke with relatives of those who had died. Quietly, they donated money to the survivors. Bradley, his wife and two daughters, also rallied support for the Children's Cancer Hospital of Egypt, to which they also gave money. And last November, after an accident involving a train and school bus killed dozens of children in Asyut, 230 miles south of Cairo, Bradley met with the victims' families.
"Egypt is a region where emotion counts. People respond emotionally and that response is important," says James M. Dorsey, a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, who writes a blog on Middle Eastern soccer. "If you respond to situations with a sense that you understand what's going on and that you empathize and that you're part of this, people value that."
Hassan El Mestikawy, a well-known sports analyst in Egypt, pays Bradley an ever bigger compliment. "He's an Egyptian," El Mestikawy says.