Bob Bradley will be a guest of ‘The Daily Show with John Stewart’ tonight. The show, currently being hosted by John Oliver, airs at 11pm EST on Comedy Central. Do your patriotic duty and view the interview with a true American hero. If you can’t, please enjoy the clips that will join this article tomorrow, or watch the full interview after it airs at http://www.thedailyshow.com/
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”
It’s late afternoon in Pasadena, California on June 25, 2011. The United States Men’s National Soccer Team has a 2-0 lead over archrival Mexico. The coach’s son scored the first goal off of a corner kick and the team followed that with another goal from the deft left foot of Landon Donovan. Amidst the dream start, however, an injury to right back Steve Cherundolo proves too much for the Americans to overcome. The match would finish 4-2 in favor of El Tri & calls for an end to the Bob Bradley era again picked up steam. Cooler, calmer heads had prevailed after the joy of the Americans World Cup group win was tempered by a heartbreaking Round of 16 defeat to Ghana in extra time.
There were systematic complaints of tactical stagnancy. American fans, impatient with the country’s technical development and insistent upon a more exciting brand of soccer, had grown weary of such a predictable regime. Bradley’s consistent, yet reserved demeanor didn’t ease their concerns. A post on the ‘Fire Bob Bradley’ Facebook page read:
“You never lose a tournament finals when you go up 2-0. NEVER. A good coach would make changes, keep the crowd out of the game and secure the victory at home.”
Despite the constant criticism and blame, the steady coach was his usual self after the game…crediting the opponent & offering his honest and professional, if not inspiring thoughts:
“It’s a difficult way for us to end the tournament for sure…As a team we made a lot of progress and we were looking forward to this matchup. It’s a very good game. It’s fast. There’s a lot of very good attacking on both sides. We certainly congratulate Mexico. Give credit to them for some of the soccer they put together and like I said we put a good amount into it and we’re disappointed to let one slip away.”
One month later, Bradley was out as Head Coach of the US squad. Many lauded the move, applauding a “restart” of sorts for US Soccer. Upon his firing, this website, not always Bradley’s biggest supporter, questioned the fairness of the entire tenure: starting as an interim coach who wasn’t the first choice, leaving because despite roaring stretches of success, he wasn’t the first choice. The decision to fire Bradley drew some criticism: the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson himself felt it foolish—but largely, his dismissal was applauded in the States. Despite his successes(and he had many notable successes), his tenure was over and it did not end on his terms.
“If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss…”
What is the difference between a man of simple honor and trustworthiness, the type of man who makes a promise and then keeps that promise, versus a man who is willing to disregard all evident sensibility for the sake of a cause that most men wouldn’t fight for in the first place? What’s the difference between a man you’d use as an example to your children and a man that your grandchildren will read about in history books?
In the case of one Robert “Bob” Bradley, the difference might be as minute as picking the crazy career choice.
I italicize the word ‘crazy’ because I think most Americans, even those with a healthy devotion to sport, would on the surface, characterize taking the head-coaching job of the Egyptian National Soccer team as crazy. It’s a job that hasn’t brought a great deal of success to ANY man(the Egyptians last qualified for the World Cup Finals in 1990, their second appearance ever) and Coach Bradley managed to walk into this job in a time that could only be described (gently, one could add) as politically tumultuous. It is one thing to take a job with a privately owned club team that happens to reside in a politically unstable country. It could be seen as professionally risky & personally dangerous. To stand as the athletic face of a nation that is literally crumbling at its foundation represents a whole ‘nother challenge.
Bob Bradley took the gamble & bet his career as a soccer coach on a nation with significant talent and mountainous obstacles. To be clear, this was not the only option available to Bradley. Following the 2010 World Cup there were brief rumors of a move to the English Premier League and with an ounce of patience there would have no doubt been opportunities in Major League Soccer if not elsewhere. Bob chose to move himself and his wife to a country whose President had recently resigned leaving a void of leadership from the top down. The term ‘Arab Spring’ was still hot on the search bars of Googlers worldwide. And yet, the greatest challenges Bradley would face in Egypt were the ones he could never have foreseen.
“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch….”
On the morning of February 2, Bob Bradley and his wife Lindsay walked out into the streets of Cairo as they had done many other mornings. Only this time, they walked into the streets with thousands of other citizens and they were there with a purpose. Just one day earlier, a club soccer match at Port Said Stadium had erupted into what now is described as a massacre of 79 soccer fans. As debate exploded as to the source of the catastrophe, the victims were honored in a peaceful march through the streets. Amidst the chaos, violence and turmoil, Lindsay and Bob Bradley could be found grieving with the loved ones of those killed in the massacre. It was a remarkable moment that endeared the coach to all Egyptians.
Since taking the job, the Bradley’s have immersed themselves in the Egyptian culture fully. They’ve spoken at length about living in the heart of Cairo. They eat at the local café’s…they mingle with the people who have been there for generations. Most importantly, when disaster struck & their livelihood & safety have been in question, Lindsay and Bob have chosen, repeatedly, to stand strong.
After the tragedy at Port Said, Bob gave interviews worldwide, spoke out publicly against the violence and gave a face of resolution to the footballing community. He is now the focus of a documentary entitled “We Must Go” which chronicles the Egyptian team’s quest to reach the World Cup. Perhaps more importantly, he kept winning football games. Bob’s shown the ability to bring a personal relationship with the people of Egypt and at the same time keep his team focused on the ultimate goal, qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. With one game left in the second of three qualification rounds, an undefeated Egypt has clinched the top of its group and advancement to the third round.
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And-which is more-you’ll be a Man, my son!”-Rudyard Kipling
I think if you were to ask Coach Bradley why he decided to stick it out in Cairo & finish the job he and his wife started you would likely get an unremarkable answer about commitment. He would probably explain that he signed up for it and that he was going to do everything humanly possible to fulfill that commitment. But that rather mundane and simplistic view only proves that his actions are even more astonishing.
The extraordinary circumstances surrounding the past few years of Egyptian soccer would qualify under ANY parameters as a reasonable & even LOGICAL excuse for men of sanity and mediocrity to jump ship towards a more buoyant vessel. Bob doesn’t have time for such “other” endeavors. There is no evidence of any “grass must be greener” attitude and no indication, based on the way the Pharaohs have played, that Bob is focused on anything outside qualifying Egypt for Brazil. Even men influenced by our better angels may have shrunk in the face of the type of challenge, both on the pitch and off it, Bradley is facing in Egypt. No one would have thought the lesser of them. Instead Bradley’s gone about his daily yeoman’s work of patching up the ship he’s on, one little leak at a time.
The truth is we all underestimated Bob Bradley. Maybe we underestimated him as a soccer coach (he’s certainly getting results on the pitch), but we most definitely underestimated him as a man. If you read that and feel an element of regret, or an urge to apologize, that’s okay. Having that feeling is enough. Acting on it gets in the way of what you should feel: proud.
Bradley was our respectable leader: unremarkable, if not boring; and Americans have a short attention span. His coaching style was, from our ivory towers and beer-stained armchairs, stale and predictable; his emotionless face at times infuriating. Sure he had that steely resolve and managed to instill that same resolve in our own national team, but he was American. That’s what Americans do, we convinced ourselves.
What most all failed to see was the fire being endlessly stoked inside of Coach Bradley. We failed to see that his resolve, his character…the full depth of his leadership…they were merely being scratched at the surface level.
One person who has known all along about this fire, resolve and character is Daryl Shore, most recently the Head Coach of the North American Soccer League’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers and an assistant under Bradley with the Chicago Fire. In the midst of a dreadful spring NASL campaign that ultimately cost Shore his job, the Strikers lost a hard-fought Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match to FC Dallas, and Shore cracked a smile in the postgame interview when reporters mentioned how Schellas Hyndman, the FC Dallas manager, had been impressed with the Strikers tactical setup but not with their personnel. Noticing the brief smile, The Yanks Are Coming asked Shore who smiled more, him or Bob Bradley. Shore’s face lit up at the mere mention of his former boss. His answer was more illuminating.
“Probably, no, definitely, I smile more than Bob. Bob’s family has seen him smile after a loss, but you all, you wouldn’t see that. There’s a bunch you don’t see with Bob,” Shore continued. “Every detail is attended to, from nutrition and what’s for breakfast to substitution planning to what happens if your left back gets a yellow card in the first five minutes, but that’s just part of who he is. The main thing with Bob is he can be that competitive and he cares relentlessly for people. You could be the beat writer or the ball boy or a trainer or the high-priced forward, and he’d care relentlessly. He’d treat you the same.” Shore, paused, finished his thought. “I owe so much to Bob, as a coach, as a person. What’s funny is that, since he left the US job, he really hasn’t changed. People’s view of him has, that’s all.”
That, it would seem, is something too few of us knew about Bob Bradley. Humans don’t often learn our strengths without testing the limits of our capabilities. That means exiting our comfort zones…venturing into the unknown. Only Bradley can say for certain whether he was mentally prepared for the past 3 years in Cairo. I can’t imagine anyone truly being ready for the things Bradley has seen and experienced. Regardless, it doesn’t take an interview to see that, whether he felt prepared or not, Bradley chewed up and spit out the limitations others attempted to place on his abilities. He’s redefined himself in the eyes of this American (and doubtlessly many others), but far more importantly, he has helped improve the lives of future Egyptians for generations to come. If we all are just trying to make the world a better place…if we all just want to feel like we’ve fulfilled a sense of purpose…we can only hope to have such a noble impact.
Garrett McInnis is a contributing writer to The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow his USMNT, Ole Miss sports heavy, quality Twitter feed at @captainmcinnis.