An American coach tries to lead the Egyptian soccer team to the 2014 World Cup in “American Pharaoh,” a suspenseful one-hour documentary premiering Monday, June 16, on PBS (check local listings).
Timed to air during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the film by Jossam Aboul-Magd — an Egyptian filmmaker who is an avid soccer fan and a native of Cairo — follows Bob Bradley and his wife, Lindsay, from their arrival in Egypt on Oct. 3, 2011, through their turbulent experiences over the next two years both on and off the field.
The Egyptian soccer team had not qualified for the World Cup since 2011, so the pressure would have been on under the best of circumstances. And the Bradleys hardly came to Egypt under the best of circumstances.
Earlier in 2011, disenchanted Egyptians — led in no small part by a militant group of hard-core football fans known as the Ultras – had overthrown President Hosni Mubarak in the dramatic Arab Spring uprising. Any initial euphoria gradually evaporated, however, once the Egyptians realized that deposing an unpopular head of state is a far cry from establishing a true democracy, as Egypt wobbled through months of civil strife.
That same year had been a rocky one for Bradley as well. After five successful years as coach of the U.S. soccer team, he was fired following his team’s World Cup loss to Mexico. He signed on to coach Egypt’s team, the Pharaohs, in September 2011, over the concern of his children, who worried about their parents relocating to such an unstable political climate.
Ultimately, however, the Bradleys received a warm welcome from Cairo locals and his team rewarded him with months of hard, dedicated performance. This sports story would not have a happy ending, though. As social upheaval continued and even escalated, the Pharaohs became the only soccer team in the world to win every one of their qualification games, only to fall to Ghana, the top-ranked team in Africa, in October 2013.
Bradley’s contract was terminated immediately following that loss, and the couple left Egypt on Dec. 5, 2013.