Egyptians’ evolution through the World Cup lens
The Egyptian national football coach boldly proclaimed “we will reach the semi-finals in the next World Cup” following his team’s very modest performance in the 1990 tournament. Ultimately, it took 28 years for the Egyptian team to even qualify for the World Cup again. The Egyptian coach’s statement summarizes the ongoing dilemma in Egypt between our high ambitions and our dismal reality. It takes substantially more than a haphazard desire to succeed in life.
Football is by far the most popular sport in many nations. It is one of the few industries where developed and developing nations have relatively equal opportunities. Egyptians believe that their adoration of football should enable them to win most of their matches, regardless of the team’s level of performance. We are not aware that popularity alone does not make a winning team — in football, as in other industries, a scientific mechanism (that we completely lack) is needed to excel.
In Egypt, football is an industry that serves politics and enhances the popularity of a number of influential citizens. Politicians tend to claim personal credit when our team wins, while celebrities distract our football players by rushing to their side in an attempt to garner some of the World Cup media coverage. Many of the players chosen to represent our national team are not selected based purely on merit; family connections play a role. Egyptian football mirrors our socioeconomic and government defects — however, the crowds always want Egypt to win.
“While the Egyptian national team, along with its fans, were celebrating the penalty that would qualify them to the World Cup, they forgot that someone still needed to score the penalty, which was scored thanks to the steel nerves of Mo Salah,” declared Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp, praising his player’s performance and noting the tremendous pressure he was under. The German coach’s statement highlights the difference between German society, which celebrates only after scoring, and Egyptians, who celebrate wildly and try to score later.
Egyptian society is not capable of either acknowledging its need to perform better or recognizing the correct moment to relax and enjoy the harvests of success. Advanced nations often enjoy their fun in life after achieving success, while we have an ongoing happy-go-lucky attitude, believing that we will become serious when it is truly needed. Our talent for speedily cracking jokes on any given occasion has helped us to digest many unpleasant situations. Perhaps our laid-back social attitude enhances our sense of humor.
In football as in any other industry, “no pain, no gain” is the simple formula that will permit Egyptians to perform better.
Furthermore, the 100 Members of Parliament who traveled to Russia to support our national team at the expense of either Parliament (as is rumored) or a wealthy MP portray the degree to which corruption is intensifying in Egypt. Our inability to develop a team spirit has left us with a single success in sports: We have won world championships in squash for many years. Apart from the players’ talent, our success in squash is partly due to the individualistic nature of the game, while the sport’s unpopularity has protected it from interference by the government and society.
Our lax attitude is our biggest enemy. Our inability to be reasonably organized and disciplined has downgraded our performance in many of life’s battles. Waiting to celebrate until after scoring the penalty would allow us to differentiate between times when we need to be firm and times when relaxing is permissible. Meanwhile, the sole victim of this chain of imperfections is the coach; the football federation tends to blame the coach for our failures and will probably fire him, while maintaining the inefficient football management system.
The poor performance of the Egyptian team in the 2018 World Cup is a result of the failure to transform the ambitions voiced by the Egyptian coach 28 years ago into any kind of winning strategy. His was a desire expressed in a moment of excitement that neither the coach nor the football federation tried to build on. In football as in any other industry, “no pain, no gain” is the simple formula that will permit Egyptians to perform better. We should not desire success unless we are ready to work hard to realize it.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir
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