Former Egypt boss Bob Bradley recalls ‘special’ Mohamed Salah says: ‘It was clear he was good’
Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail|05 April 2018| 18 Rajab 1439
Bob Bradley still recalls the sight of a teenage Mohamed Salah taking the first baby steps of his professional career.
“I remember it so easily. It took only one training session to realize how good he was,” the former Egypt manager said with a beaming smile, as he stands on the touchline of a training pitch after completing a morning session with his current employers Los Angeles FC.
Bradley’s reminiscing takes him back to the autumn of 2011 when he was coming to grips with the quirks of life in Cairo, the sluggish pace of Egyptian bureaucracy, and the hordes of young autograph-hunters who followed his every move.
Amid these cultural challenges, he needed to begin broadening his knowledge of the players at his disposal, after he had agreed to become Egypt boss following his dismissal as US head coach the previous July.
Thankfully, his assistant manager, Diaa El-Sayed, was the perfect professor for a crash-course on the Pharaoh’s ranks. Three months earlier, El-Sayed had led Egypt to the last 16 of the under-20s World Cup, where Salah, Mohamed Elneny and Ahmed Hegazi were engaging an audience outside their homeland for the first time.
Bradley was quick to visit Salah’s then employers.
“We started talking about his players and I watched Arab Contractors several times. They were a young team, whose results were great and had some real talent,” he said.
“But there were two young players who quickly stood out — Salah and Elneny. You knew immediately that here was a special talent.”
But any thoughts over the 19-year-old Salah’s potential ended with the horror of the Port Said stadium disaster and the subsequent suspension of domestic football. The possibility of scouting the winger regularly was no longer an option.
Bradley was forced to hold lengthy training camps to shape his side for the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign and it was the youngsters from El-Sayed’s U20s squad who were fast-tracked into the senior ranks. It did not take long to grasp the possibilities ahead for one of them.
“As we started to work with Salah, it took one training session to realize how good he was,” said Bradley.
“I had sat in the stands and seen the talent; I had watched the videos from the U20s World Cup. But then I saw him training, how eager he was to learn, how quickly he picked up things. He had an open mind. He is smart, focused on getting better. He understood the little things we
wanted him to work on.
“He is a really good guy — bright and determined to get better, listen and work.
“But it wasn’t just the attitude. He had ideas on how to really play, how to use his qualities. You could see he had explosive speed.”
Salah and the new crop of Egyptian players ensured Bradley was an instant hit, with back-to-back World Cup qualifying victories over Mozambique and Guinea providing the foundations for a campaign that saw the Pharaohs go close to reaching the 2014 tournament. Ultimately, it was only a playoff defeat to Ghana, having won all six of their previous qualifying matches, that ended their passage to Brazil.
Bradley was not the only one to grasp the potential of the standout prospect at his disposal.
By the time Salah scored the winner in the 3-2 success over Guinea, he had already penned a four-year contract with FC Basel after the Swiss side had spotted his ability at the U20 World Cup. After the winger spent a week on trial with the club, Basel agreed on a fee with Arab Contractors for his services.
“When Basel came in for him, he made the move there and continued to grow. That burning desire to get better never left him,” said Bradley.
Salah’s subsequent journey to Chelsea, Roma and Liverpool is well-documented thanks to his emergence as one of world football’s elite performers. Seven years on from that breakthrough U20 World Cup tournament, the 25-year-old will be one of the most eagerly anticipated attractions in Russia this summer.
Egypt will be far from a one-man band, however, with Hegazi and Elneny now joining Salah as established Premier League players. Bradley is still working with one member of the squad, too, after LAFC signed Omar Gaber on a season-long loan from Basel, ahead of their inaugural campaign in MLS.
Gaber struggled for first-team action at Basel, but Bradley is delighted to be reunited with the 26-year-old and believes he can make an impact in Russia.
“I’m so excited to be working with Omar again and for him to be going to the World Cup,” he said.
“He is a player the fans enjoy because he gives everything.”
But with a player of Salah’s pedigree at Egypt’s disposal, Bradley believes the Pharaohs have every chance of emerging from a group featuring Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia and reaching the World Cup knockout stages for the first time in the country’s history.
Certainly, the performance in the friendly against Portugal during the international break provided encouragement that Egypt can reach the last 16. A subsequent friendly defeat to Greece was far less heartening, but Salah was an unused substitute for that encounter.
Bradley said: “I’m so excited for him going to the World Cup.
“Egypt has got talented players and obviously now there’s a star, so I can’t wait to see how they get on in Russia.
Source – Arab News