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An American Soccer Coach In Egypt's National Court

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Anti-Americanism is on the rise in Egypt these days. A highly publicized trial is under way in Cairo against U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups and Egyptians are making it clear they reject any American involvement in their country's affairs.

There's one exception, however, an American living in Cairo whom Egyptians are counting on to shake things up. His name is Bob Bradley, and he's the New Jersey-born coach of Egypt's struggling national soccer team.

What many Egyptians admire about Bradley, who coached the U.S. team until last year, is his hands-on approach, says youth coach and soccer expert Diaa Salah. He says the 53-year-old American coach is trying to improve the agility and fitness of the Egyptian players to help them qualify for the World Cup in 2014.

"He's not a typical suit-and-tie coach," Salah says. "No, he gets his track suit on and gets down on the pitch with the players. He likes to get involved in all of the situations on the pitch. That gives a very good message to the players themselves."

It's a message that Bradley relies on his Arabic-speaking assistants to translate for his players, most of whom don't speak English. But what Bradley lacks in foreign-language skills, his supporters say he makes up for by embracing the Egyptian culture and living among them in a popular Cairo neighborhood, rather than in a walled compound.

"He's not one of those coaches who likes to keep distance; no, he wants to be right in the middle of things," Salah says. "I think Egyptians do like [and] are very warm and welcoming to coaches like that."

Bradley says he's gratified by how Egyptians have welcomed him and his wife, Lindsay, since he took over the national team here last October.

"We recognize how proud Egyptians are of their country, their history, of their culture and people have really reached out to us in a way that we feel very appreciative," Bradley says.

How long the warm reception will last is unclear.

The Road Ahead

In downtown Cairo, passerby Ahmed Adel expressed his frustration with the lackluster performance of the team in recent months. He and others here say Bradley has big shoes to fill, as his Egyptian predecessor, Hassan Shehata, led the Egyptians to three Africa Cup titles.

The American coach also faces major hurdles his predecessors haven't.

Egypt's unprecedented popular uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power and the continuing struggle between his military allies and emerging democratic forces here have weakened many of the country's institutions, including its soccer league.

An even more devastating blow came last month with a fatal riot that killed 74 soccer fans following a game in the northern city of Port Said. It was the worst such tragedy in Egyptian history and led officials to cancel league games for the rest of this year.

Bradley says it has also limited his opportunities to scout for new talent.

"There are probably 10 to 12 players that we would have considered for the camp that we have right now, had this incident not taken place," he says.

As of this month, the Egyptian team dropped to its lowest world ranking ever — 64th place, compared to 9th place two years ago. But Bradley says he's not giving up.

"I made it very clear that the national team will need to have camps and will need to find a way to play matches, especially when you consider that the league will not start up again," he says.

His players are training in Egypt and abroad, like in Qatar, where the Egyptian national team recently won 5-0 in a friendly game against Kenya.

The Egyptian team's captain, Ahmed Hassan, says he predicts that with their American coach's drive and the Egyptian players' confidence, the national team will recover.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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