It took an atrocity and a mutual acquaintance to bring Bob Bradley and Omar Gaber together for the first time five years ago. And it took no small measure of patience and persistence to reunite them Tuesday when Bradley, coach of the expansion Los Angeles Football Club, announced a deal to acquire Gaber on loan from FC Basel of the Swiss Super League.
“Omar,” Bradley said “is a very special guy.”
He’s also a guy Bradley knew nothing about when he took over as coach of the Egyptian national team in fall 2011. Then less than five months into the job, a massive riot at an Egyptian Premier League match in Port Said killed 74 people, leading the government to shut down the league for two years.
Players scattered, complicating efforts to put together a roster for World Cup qualifying. So Bradley turned to assistant Diaa El Sayed, coach of Egypt’s U-20 team, who pulled together a squad of youngsters that included Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Elneny and Gaber.
Those turned out to be good choices because Salah, now with Liverpool, leads the English Premier League in goals; Elneny plays for rival Arsenal; and Gaber is about to join his former coach in Major League Soccer.
“He was in a situation where he wasn’t playing as much as he hoped [at Basel],” Bradley said. “So the opportunity to bring him to LAFC for me — it’s great to work with him again. And I really think that he’s a player that’s going to be very important to our team.”
Although Gaber is listed on Basel’s roster as a defender, the position he primarily plays for Egypt, Bradley said he’s a difficult player to pigeonhole.
“He’s a versatile player,” said Bradley, who expects Gaber to play at right back. “And regardless of where he plays he’s got a great ability to get forward and make things happen.”
LAFC, preparing for its MLS debut in March, acquired Gaber on loan from Basel, which had signed him to a four-year contract last year. When the loan expires in 2018, LAFC can sign the player permanently.
Bradley, who recently returned from an overseas scouting trip, has been pursuing Gaber since shortly after joining LAFC last July. And with Gaber having played just once in Basel’s first 15 league games this fall, part of Bradley’s sales pitch centered on Egypt’s recent qualification for its first World Cup in 28 years.
“The most important thing leading into that World Cup is that players are playing big roles in teams,” Bradley said. “And if you are playing a big role and you’re playing well, then that certainly makes a great statement.”
Gaber, 25, will join the team as the MLS “discovery player” mechanism and his salary will be paid partly through the use of targeted allocation money from the league.
And he might not be the only young player LAFC adds to its first-team roster this week.
The franchise is in advanced discussions with Uruguayan club Penarol over forward Diego Rossi, who has agreed in principle to a designated-player contract. Those talks recently ground to a halt over the final details of the deal, which is expected to include a transfer fee of just less than $3 million.
Rossi, 19, made his debut with Penarol’s first team last year and scored 12 times in his first 41 games. He has played for Uruguay at the U-17 and U-20 levels but not with the senior national team.
“The work continues,” Bradley said of the contract negotiations. “Until you have it 100% done you’re always a little bit cautious. “
If the deal is completed, Rossi would become the team’s second designated player after Mexican national team star Carlos Vela, who signed with LAFC in August and has spent the fall playing in Spain with Real Sociedad.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11