Egypt international Omar Gaber excited at prospect of MLS adventure

Omar Gaber is heading to MLS outfit Los Angeles FC to be reunited with former coach Bob Bradley. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 January 2018
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Egypt international Omar Gaber excited at prospect of MLS adventure

LOS ANGELES: It is five years since Omar Gaber last appeared on a teamsheet picked by Bob Bradley, yet the bond of mutual respect between player and manager is undimmed.
“I’m so excited to work with him again, he’s a great coach and a great person as well,” Egyptian international Gaber told Arab News in a Los Angeles hotel, just days after landing in California for his new footballing venture.
Gaber was a fringe figure at FC Basel when Bradley came calling in November. He had made just 17 appearances for the Swiss outfit in the previous 18 months after moving from boyhood club Zamalek.
Former Egyptian national team manager Bradley sensed an opportunity, as he began constructing a team from scratch for new Major League Soccer club Los Angeles FC — a franchise co-owned by a host of Hollywood and sporting glitterati including Will Ferrell and ‘Magic’ Johnson.
Bradley wanted familiar faces to etch onto his blank sheet of paper and a deal was struck for Gaber to join on a season-long loan, with the 25-year-old arriving in southern California last week to begin pre-season training.
But it is not just the opportunity of a fresh start in MLS which prompts Gaber to refer to Bradley in such reverential terms. Neither is it the memory of the international caps earned under the American during Egypt’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, when so much hope and promise culminated in the heartbreaking play-off defeat to Ghana.
It is Bradley’s contribution toward Egypt ending their 28-year wait for successful World Cup qualification, which leads Gaber to regard his manager in such glowing terms.
Bradley’s spell in charge of Egypt coincided with the bloody violence of the revolution, the Port Said stadium disaster and the suspension of the Egyptian Premier League.
But despite such harrowing off-the-field strife, Gaber believes Bradley was instrumental in laying the foundations for the Pharaohs’ current success under African Coach of the Year Hector Cuper.
He was able to put a more successful structure in place for the national side and actively incorporated those playing European football, such as Mohamed Salah, Ahmed Elmohamady and Mohamed Elneny.
Five years on, Egypt are reaping the rewards of those foundations.
Gaber said: “It was a very bad situation in Egypt at that time and the league was not playing regularly.
“It was so difficult to qualify at that time (in 2014). We didn’t make it, but Bob built a new team for the national side. We were only one step away from qualifying too.
“He also helped players to go and play in Europe. That’s why the people in Egypt still remember him and love him so much.
“Of course, when Bob Bradley spoke with me, I had to come here.”
Head coach Bob Bradley talks with reporters during the introduction of players and coaches at the first training camp of the Los Angeles Football Club MLS soccer team. (AP)

AMERICAN ADVENTURE
Bradley was evidently the key factor in Gaber moving to MLS, as he bids to secure a spot in Cuper’s squad for next summer’s World Cup.
But the midfielder almost made the switch to the US three years ago, when Columbus Crew held talks with Zamalek, before negotiations ground to a halt.
“We couldn’t agree anything,” Gaber explains succinctly.
Politically, of course, the US is now a very different place, with President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries due be ruled upon by the Supreme Court later this year, although Egypt remains exempt from the possible legislation.
But the growing social, religious and racial tensions in the country did not dissuade Gaber from joining LAFC.
“No, I had no doubts,” said Gaber.
“As a footballer, you only have to focus on the field. It’s my job. I have to work hard on the field. That’s it.
“All I can say is I’m looking forward to mixing with the big Egyptian community in Los Angeles.”
Neither was there any fear of the unknown in joining a club with no history, no recent results and a threadbare squad that in November would have struggled to fulfill the duties of a five-a-side team.
“It’s a risk, but because we have quality players now and the people working for the club want success, I’m sure we’ll achieve good things together,” he said.
“When they started to speak with me, I felt they were so professional and had big ambitions.
“The MLS is improving so much. It’s a new experience, a new adventure for me.
“At FC Basel, many of the players spoke about how they’d like to go to the MLS. The league is strong now and the life here is so beautiful.”
Ahead of the new MLS season starting in March, LAFC now have far more recruits on their books, with former Arsenal and Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela their biggest name so far.
With a new $350 million stadium due to open in the heart of Los Angeles in April, the club have big ambitions to elbow aside David Beckham’s former employers LA Galaxy as the city’s dominant side.
Traditionally, new MLS clubs have struggled in their first seasons, albeit Seattle Sounders and last year Atlanta United, broke that trend. Yet Gaber boasts the undimmed confidence that new signings invariably enjoy when they speak of the season ahead.
“We have to achieve big things in the first year and make history,” he said.


Poor use of local talent, bad auction decisions have cost Royal Challengers Bangalore dear in IPL

Updated 21 May 2018
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Poor use of local talent, bad auction decisions have cost Royal Challengers Bangalore dear in IPL

  • 2018 debacle – eight losses in 14 games – follows on the heels of a 2017 season where they won just three matches
  • Bangalore, both in terms of recruitment and on-field execution, were well off the pace in this year's IPL

The city of Bangalore can now boast of two extremely popular sports teams.
The football team, Bengaluru FC, has only been in existence since 2013. But that half-decade has been enough for them to become a beacon for Indian football, a role model of professionalism — the previous absence of which contributed so much to the slide down the world rankings from the 1970s.
The cricket team, in contrast, has epitomised the worst of Indian sport, with its ‘chalta hai (it works)’ attitude.
That would seem excessive criticism of a franchise that has reached three finals in 11 seasons (losing them all), but if you scratch beneath the surface, it is always individual brilliance rather than a robust team ethos that has been responsible for the team’s crests.
The 2018 debacle – eight losses in 14 games – follows on the heels of a 2017 season where they won just three matches. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have finished sixth or worse in three of the five seasons where Daniel Vettori has been coach.
Qualifying for the playoffs in 2015, and reaching the final a year later on the back of Virat Kohli’s 973 runs, was largely down to the triumvirate of Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle being in such formidable touch.
The captain too cannot be exempt from blame. But this season, there were extenuating circumstances.
While the auction was going on in Bangalore in January, Kohli’s full focus was trained on a Wanderers Test that he was determined to win.
When asked a question about the IPL after the match was won, he brushed it off with a curt answer of “Sir, please don’t ask me such things now.”
Bangalore’s auction missteps were cruelly apparent on Saturday evening, as two Karnataka players combined to knock them out.
Shreyas Gopal and Krishnappa Gowtham have never worn RCB colors. It cost Rajasthan Royals 62 million rupees ($910,000) to sign Gowtham, but Gopal came at his base price of two million rupees.
The spin web they spun – 6 for 23 in six overs – illustrated Bangalore’s inability to make best use of local talent. Three of the Indian spinners RCB signed – Pawan Negi, Washington Sundar and Murugan Ashwin – for a combined cost of 64 million rupees ended up bowling 31 overs across the season.
Of course, you cannot be too parochial when it comes to professional sport. The National Football League’s two greatest quarterbacks – Joe Montana and Tom Brady – both crossed the width of a continent to script their legends.
Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles were not born within a goal kick of Hackney or Islington. And Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona certainly were not all about the boys from La Masia.
But in Bangalore’s case, despite Karnataka having enjoyed some excellent seasons in domestic cricket this decade, there has been a marked reluctance to pick the players for RCB. Even those that did play and shine, like KL Rahul, who made 397 runs for them in 2016, were not retained.
Instead, RCB’s third retention card in 2018 was spent on Sarfaraz Khan, who finished the season with 51 runs. Rahul already has 652.
Vettori succeeded Ray Jennings in January 2014, the man who had taken them to two finals in 2009 and 2011.
A year later, when Kohli was handed the Test reins by India, Jennings told The Indian Express how Kohli had been instrumental in him losing his job.
“People generally don’t like being questioned and pointed out their shortcomings, but I knew what I did was for his, and the team’s, well-being,” he said. “But as a captain, he has the right to work with the people he is comfortable with and I have no complaints.”
Gary Kirsten, who took India to the No.1 ranking in Tests and helped win a World Cup in 2011, joined RCB this season as mentor and batting coach.
In the T20 format, Kirsten has a wretched record. India failed to make it out of the Super Eights at the World T20 in both 2009 and 2010, and his two seasons with the Delhi Daredevils were nothing short of a disaster.
Vettori’s attempt to spread his wings with Middlesex last summer saw him finish with a 5-7 win-loss record.
The successful teams long ago realized that T20 is a separate sport, where success depends on good scouting and use of analytics.
Pedigree in the longer forms is no guarantee for success in T20, where the name of the game is tactical innovation.
Bangalore, both in terms of recruitment and on-field execution, are well off the pace.