Egypt Pulse

New coach pledges facelift to Egypt's national soccer team

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Article Summary
Javier Aguirre tells Al-Monitor that his main challenge is to raise the morale of his team after their defeat in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The new stars of Egypt's national soccer team are more likely to be found in the Egyptian leagues rather than among Egyptians playing abroad, according to Javier Aguirre, the coach of the Egyptian national team for FIFA World Cup Qatar in 2022.

Aguirre, who is from Mexico, took over from Hector Cuper in August after the 2018 World Cup. He told Al-Monitor that he intends to inject new blood into the team. "That is why I am carefully watching Egyptian league matches … to discover talent," he said.

“My strategy does not rely on players who play in foreign clubs,” he added, although the Egyptian national team’s star player, Mohamed Salah, is currently playing at Liverpool.

Aguirre made headlines after the Egyptian team defeated Niger 6-0 in the African Cup (AFCON 2019) qualifiers on Sept. 8. "I am so happy that the national team managed to draw a smile on Egyptians' faces after beating Niger with a high score. I know [that Egyptian soccer fans] were somehow disappointed with the team's result in the World Cup," Aquirre told Al-Monitor on the sidelines of the celebrations of Mexican Independence Day in Egypt on Sept. 16.

He also said that the victory had been important for the players themselves. "The players' disappointment after the World Cup was one of the key challenges facing me. But they soon managed to turn this disappointment into accomplishment by defeating Niger.”

Aguirre also stressed that each player has his own good points, and it is the coach’s job to make the best use of their individual talents and capabilities.

"As for my tactics, it differs from match to match depending on the competitor. Frankly speaking, I am optimistic about the future and I hope I can leave a mark on the history of the national team," Aguirre said.

Aguirre’s appointment follows the country’s disappointment over the performance of its national team in World Cup Russia in June 2018. The Egyptian national soccer team qualified for the finals after 28 years but was eliminated in the first round. Despite the presence of Liverpool’s star-player, Mohamed Salah, the team was defeated 1-0 by Uruguay, 3-1 by Russia and 2-1 by Saudi Arabia. 

This has sparked heated debate over the tactics of then Argentinean coach Hector Cuper, and on June 26, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) announced that it would not renew Cuper's contract. The announcement triggered a controversy on whether it would be better to have an Egyptian coach this time, but the four-name shortlist that emerged in late July consisted of foreign coaches, including Aguirre.

In August, EFA signed a four-year contract with Aguirre. The contract, however, included a clause that said that the contract would be terminated in case of failing to lead and qualify the national team to AFCON 2019 due to be held in Cameroon.

Under the contract, Aguirre and his assistants will be paid a monthly salary worth $120,000, according to EFA board member Magdy Abdel Ghany.

A lot of hopes ride on Aguirre, the 60-year-old former football player popularly known as “El Vasco” (“The Basque”). He will receive a $500,000 bonus if Egypt qualifies for the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar.

"He has a respectable and impressive track record in Spain," EFA chairman Hany Abo said of Aguirre, who coached Zaragoza, Espanyol and Atletico Madrid.

"We cannot judge Aguirre's performance from only one game. We have to wait. There are many stages. The first stage is to lead the national team to AFCON 2019. Of course, Egypt's last match against Niger gives a glimmer of hope, but there are many challenges ahead," Egyptian sports critic Gamal Holayel told Al-Monitor.

“If he manages to pass all these stages successfully, his contract will be renewed. Otherwise, the contract will be terminated. So, we have to wait and see and do not issue baseless judgments," he concluded.

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Amira Sayed Ahmed is a Cairo-based freelance journalist and full-time editor of local news at The Egyptian Gazette, Cairo's oldest English-language daily. She has been involved in writing about political, social and cultural issues in Egypt since 2013.

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