- Egypt coach Hossam El Badry gives an exclusive interview to FIFA.com
- He reveals how he ended up being selected for the role and what it meant to him
- Also shares his opinion on Egypt’s qualifying group for Qatar 2022
In 2018, Egypt finally ended their 28-year FIFA World Cup™ drought. Having made their second appearance at the global showpiece at Italy 1990, the Pharaohs returned to the world stage at Russia 2018. That achievement raised the hopes of Egyptian football fans that the glory days were set to return, only for these to be cruelly dashed by the team’s shock exit in the last 16 at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2019 on home soil.
That inevitably led to many calls for a change, as fans feared another downward spiral similar to the one the team suffered after winning three successive continental finals between 2006 and 2010. As a result, then coach Javier Aguirre was sacked with many demanding the appointment of an Egyptian to replace him, arguing that such a person would be better equipped to understand the players and lead the team during the upcoming period.
The Egyptian Football Federation (EFF) launched a nationwide search for the right candidate – someone with proven leadership skills, a record of winning trophies, and capable of commanding the respect of the players.
One man ticked all these boxes and more, and that was Hossam El Badry. The 60-year-old made his name at Al Ahly as assistant to Manuel Jose during the Red Devils’ golden era before taking the top job himself. He enjoyed considerable success with the Cairo giants, proving himself to be one of the country’s finest coaches.
El Badry was handed the Egyptian reins in September 2019 and shortly after had his first official engagements with two qualifying fixtures for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Since then, El Badry has been working hard on his plan for the team over the next couple of years. While football was suspended, he took time to meet with FIFA.com for an exclusive two-part interview encompassing his appointment as Egypt coach, his goals for the team and his opinion on Egypt’s group in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
FIFA.com: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you feel when the EFF opened discussions with you to become national team coach?
Hossam El Badry: It was a fantastic feeling. I’d been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Whenever I passed by the EFF’s headquarters, I prayed to God to get this job. It’s an honour for anyone to have this role. As a coach, I wanted it because it’s the culmination of my long coaching career. I just hope luck will be on my side in this difficult, yet cherished, task.
What do you think tipped the scales in your favour?
There were a few meetings where I shared my perspective and working methods. I proposed targets that we need to achieve, foremost among which was qualification for the 2022 World Cup and the next edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, in addition to building a team that can last for years. However, the criteria for selecting a coach were set by the EFF. What I can say is that I have a good CV. I started my coaching career 32 years ago and have won 32 titles, ten of which as head coach (nine with Al Ahly and one with Al Merrikh).
Your appointment comes after five years of foreign coaches at the helm. How confident are Egyptian fans in a native coach taking charge?
People here have faith that a local coach can lead them to glory. Our biggest achievements came at the hand of Egyptian coaches; the late Mahmoud El Gohary took us to the World Cup after decades of absence and Hassan Shehata led us to three straight continental titles. This makes people optimistic seeing a local coach in charge. We recognise the importance of the task facing us and that we want to lead the team back to glory. I hope to get everyone’s support, particularly the Egyptian fans. I can promise them that we in the technical team will do our very best to achieve the desired success and fly our flag high whenever we compete.
After Egypt’s shock last-16 exit from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, how will you restore the confidence of players and fans?
I know that morale was very low after that elimination and I also understand that there was massive pressure surrounding this tournament. One challenge is to restore that confidence. I’m convinced we have mentally adept players, all of whom have experienced tough times like these. They all possess qualities that will help them come back stronger. I also have complete faith in their ability to shoulder their national team responsibilities and to regain the fans’ trust.
Coaching a national team is more difficult than a club side in terms of the limited time you can spend with players and the frequent enforced changes to the squad. How are you going to overcome these difficulties?
Yes, it’s a difficult one. National team coaches would all like more time to work more thoroughly with their players in terms of their positions and how they impact the style of play. We’ll try to make up for this shortcoming by relying on the players’ mental abilities and their professionalism. All of our players are mature and know how to quickly assimilate the roles we ask them to do.
Less than two months into your job you had your first competitive fixtures in the AFCON qualifiers.
The timing was difficult. Everyone accepts that I had very little time between being officially appointed and playing our first two qualifiers. I think the delay in appointing the new coach squandered the chance to make use of the September 2019 international break. Moreover, local football was halted for 40 days, which had a negative impact on players’ fitness and mental sharpness. We also had some bad luck with several players getting injured. We called up 35 players to our first training camp, something that raised a lot of eyebrows, but it ultimately proved to be the right decision. We’re definitely not happy with the draws we had in the first two qualifying fixtures, but we’re confident we’ll make the African finals.
In the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifiers, Egypt have been drawn alongside Gabon, Angola and Libya. How do you see the group?
It’s certainly a tough section and we can’t take any of our opponents for granted. We’ve recently seen that the gaps between African national teams have shrunk. Every team has progressed thanks to their overseas-based players. I recall that after we won the 2010 AFCON title, we failed to qualify for the next edition despite playing against so-called minnows. We currently have quality players based in Europe, so we’re first aiming to go beyond this group stage and reach the final round. Then we’ll be a step closer to realising our World Cup qualification dream and making all Egyptians happy.
Do you think the team’s participation at Russia 2018 will be a positive factor or will it put more pressure on you and the players?
I’ve experienced similar situations in the past. I won the CAF Champions League and local championships, and on each occasion I wanted to go out the next season and win more titles and face new challenges. This heaps pressure on you sometimes, but we have to make use of that pressure to enhance the players’ confidence and empower them to repeatedly compete so as to attain or go beyond the goals we set ourselves.
How do you plan to rebuild the team and what’s your criteria for selecting the players?
Our technical team has a system for monitoring all potential players. We evaluate both their technical and physical development. Every player stands a chance to be selected and I know very well that they all want to put on the national jersey. We’ve already given a chance to some young players and the door will remain open to everyone. We want to integrate the promising young players with the seasoned ones. In that way we hope to solve a difficult equation: which is to assemble a strong team that can last for a decade, while making sure that we reach and maintain a high level by adapting to [football’s] technical requirements.
This is the first of a two-part interview with El Badry. Check FIFA.com on Tuesday for Part 2.