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A stranger in a strange land, ex-US coach Bob Bradley faces task of reviving Egyptian soccer
CAIRO (AP) ' Bob Bradley isn't interested in talking about the man who replaced him as U.S. coach. He's occupied with other things at the moment, like reviving the "monster" of African soccer.
Having been let go by the U.S. Soccer Federation in July after five years in charge ' and replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann ' Bradley is now coach of Egypt's national team and facing what he calls "the big responsibility."
The task is to lead the most successful team in African history and follow in the footsteps of its best coach, all at a time of historic change in the North African country on and off the field.
"Leaving as coach of the U.S. national team wasn't my decision," Bradley said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. But he insists he has now moved on and his mind is set on restoring Egypt's status in the game.
Against the backdrop of the revolution that swept Hosni Mubarak from power, the Egyptian national team had one if its worst failures this year.
Egypt is the three-time defending African Cup of Nations champion and record seven-time winner of the continental championship. But it didn't even qualify for next year's tournament ' for the first time in 34 years.
Hassan Shehata, the respected tactician who led the Pharaohs to those three successive titles, was forced out as coach. Now the job falls to Bradley, an American who had never coached outside the United States.
Not only does he inherit the dismal failure of an aging squad, but he also must develop a new generation of players to make Egypt, in his words, "the monster of Africa" again.
"It does not put me under pressure," Bradley said in Cairo. "Hassan Shehata is a very good coach. He had big achievements with the Egyptian national team and we can say he made history. His performance was excellent and it makes me proud to be here with this team."
Bradley's new job also is about restoring national pride, such is the unchallenged status of soccer as the No. 1 sport in Egypt.
"As an American I saw on TV and read about the January revolution and I respect what the Egyptians have done for what they believe. And when you are a coach of a national team your team must be connected to the people," he said.
"Players must know when they wear the national team jersey that they are playing for millions of people who love the team of this country."
Bradley doesn't yet know the culture, the language, the league, or many of the players. And his first game as coach is an exhibition against five-time world champion Brazil next month before he begins the work of attempting to qualify Egypt for the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
He may not yet know his best midfield combination or how to shout instructions to his players in Arabic, but he has learned a little. The fish in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria is "so good," he said, and he already likes falafel sandwiches ' an Egyptian favorite.
He said he's also looking forward to visiting the ancient cities of Luxor and Aswan down in the south now that he has settled into a hotel apartment in Cairo. His wife is set to join him this week.
"I try to listen and learn about everything, not only football and sports," he said, "and it's very exciting for me to be part of this life every day."
More than anything, he's learned that like the mighty pyramids that loom over his new home city, soccer dominates the sports landscape in Egypt in a way it doesn't come close to doing in the U.S.
"Regarding not qualifying to the World Cup since 1990, everywhere I go, everyone I meet and who talks with me speaks about the World Cup dream. So it's a big responsibility," he said.
"I'm learning every day. In my situation now I meet different people every day and I listen to them. The situation now is very different to when I took the role as coach of the United States. I was familiar with everything, the players and the league. Now when I'm here in Egypt I must be a good student and learn from the people around me."
Bradley was dismissed after having led the U.S. to the 2009 Confederations Cup final ' beating European champion Spain on the way ' and to the round of 16 of the World Cup in 2010. His last match was the 4-2 Gold Cup final defeat to Mexico in June.
He was succeeded by Klinsmann, a former German star and coach. Klinsmann has been welcomed as a refreshing change by some who said the squad and the style had become stale under Bradley.
"When you coach a national team, the judgment should be on your input with the team and the record and the results, and I think my results were good," Bradley said.
Three months down the line, and on the other side of the world, Bradley's not bitter about his exit. Just a little sore, maybe. A little tender.
"I'm now the coach of the Egyptian national team," he replied, after being pushed on his thoughts surrounding his dismissal and his successor. "I'm not going to speak about Klinsmann now, give him time. I'm very proud of what we achieved in the last five years when I was the coach of the United States.
"The Gold Cup final was a good match. We worked very hard in the Gold Cup to reach the final and we gave everything against Mexico. They made a few plays and won. This is football."
Football for Bradley is now far from the U.S. And it could stay that way for some time. Depending on his success with Egypt, in front of some of the most demanding and dedicated fans in the sport, a coaching job in one of Europe's top leagues could eventually beckon.
"But you must first put all your effort into your team to achieve your goals with it, and then leave the next step to your future," he said. "It's a great honor to be here now. Every day I feel I must do something not only for football here but for people here."