Ehab Galal, coach of football league club Pyramids, was elevated on Tuesday, chosen as the new head coach of Egypt’s national football team.
Reports suggest that Galal won a vote by the Egyptian Football Association, a 7-2 margin.
Before delving into the team’s future under Galal, a brief pause is in order with his predecessor. There are two ways of looking at the body of work left behind by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz who parted ways with Egypt’s national football team on Sunday. Either he did quite well during his seven-month stint or he did nothing at all.
The rose-coloured view saw Egypt under Queiroz reaching the semi-final of the Arab Cup, making it to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations and coming just a couple of whiskers away from going to this year’s World Cup.
The half-empty glass people say he was close in many events but got no cigar from any of them. Queiroz, they complain, did not win a single major football prize for the country.
As is so often the case, the truth of how Queiroz should be judged lies somewhere in between.
When Queiroz, 69, arrived in September last year, he was to replace Hossam Al-Badri in the middle of African World Cup qualifiers in a group that should have been easy but which Al-Badri’s players made it look difficult.
Queiroz brought some order into the squad, shored up its leaky defence and, despite being brand new in the country, introduced several new faces. The FIFA-sponsored Arab Cup in Qatar was the first challenge for the makeover team. There was a time when Egypt, the pioneer of football in the Arab world, would simply overpower neighbouring countries. But seeing the notable progress Arabs have made on the field, the fact that Egypt’s star overseas players were not competing, and that Egypt could have reached the final if not for an own goal in the semis, Egypt’s eventual fourth place finish was acceptable.
In January came a much sterner test, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon. Although Egypt are the record seven-time winners of the tournament, few people gave Egypt much of a chance. Most of the pre-championship talk on possible victors centred on champions Algeria, runners-up Senegal and hosts Cameroon. But after a stumbling start in the group stage, Egypt suddenly caught fire, downing African heavyweights Ivory Coast, Morocco and Cameroon before succumbing to Senegal in a final that went all the way to penalties.
Second best is never good enough for soccer-mad Egyptians but Queiroz still had the chance to enjoy local hero status had Egypt made it to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. However, just six weeks after Senegal got the better of Egypt in Africa, Senegal did it again, this time in a World Cup qualifying playoff, beating the Pharaohs in another shootout following a 1-1 aggregate draw.
A clause in Queiroz’s contract stipulated that the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) had the right to end his tenure should Egypt not reach the World Cup, which would have been the nation’s fourth. However, reports suggest that most board members in the EFA were willing to extend Queiroz’s contract but could not reach a final deal. Queiroz reportedly wanted to remain in his post until the 2026 World Cup in order to create stability and build a project while the EFA wanted a contract until the 2023 AFCON.
Overall, Queiroz won 13 games with the national team, drew in two, and suffered five defeats. Egyptians perhaps rightly expected more from Queiroz who has a long and distinguished CV: the assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and at the helm of Real Madrid, the two most storied football clubs in history. He coached the biggest of stars, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and David Beckham. What Egyptians were most attracted to were the multiple times Queiroz went to a World Cup, taking South Africa, Portugal and Iran to world football’s showpiece event.
Throughout his stay in Egypt, Queiroz refused to answer reporters’ questions about team selections and strategy, angering many journalists. But he was a true gentleman in his farewell message on Facebook, writing that ‘’to be the National Team Coach of such a great passionate football Nation was a privilege and an honor.’’
Queiroz’s journey with the national team, and who comes after him, sparked the usual debate in Egypt as to who is better equipped to lead the national team, a foreigner or a native. It is an animated argument on TV, in the press and social media whenever Egypt falters on the world stage, which happens a lot, and when a coach of Egypt is sacked, which is also frequent.
Historically, in the midst of many no-name foreign coaches, Egypt has come up with Marco Tardelli, Ruud Krol and Bob Bradley but none led the country to the two top awards the regional zone offers: a World Cup appearance and an AFCON crown.
If anything, the two most successful coaches in Egypt’s history were Egyptian: Mahmoud Al-Gohari took Egypt to the 1990 World Cup in Italy following a 56-year absence and in which Egypt produced a marvellous display to tie 1-1 with then European champions Holland. Hassan Shehata led Egypt to a record three straight AFCON titles starting in 2006.
When recently evaluating Egypt’s football performance, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi himself weighed in on the coaching discussion, hinting that Queiroz, without mentioning names, would be Egypt’s last foreign coach, and implying there was no difference between a local and a foreigner, in that the results “are the same”.
He chuckled at what could be interpreted as a misunderstanding, explaining that it was not that a foreigner was better but that a citizen coach was not less. The president did not need to mention that a domestic coach is also much less expensive.
The EFA met on 12 April to pick Queiroz’s successor. The two names that had been bandied about the most were Galal and Hossam Hassan, both Made in Egypt. Galal has taken Pyramids to the African Confederation Cup quarter-finals. Hassan was a giant of Egyptian football, at one time possessing the most international caps of any player in the world. But he has been less impressive as a local journeyman coach. Hassan is also known for an explosive temper which might turn off more than a few EFA voters.
Apparently, Hossam’s short fuse helped give Galal a convincing victory.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.