by Hoda Abbas Marafie
It is imperative to keep in mind that this issue of bazaar was sent to print before the UEFA Champions League (UCL) that will have occurred on the 26th of May. Defending champions Madrid have won it a record 12 times and are banking on being the first club in history to win it three times in a row.
Liverpool have previously won the title five times, the last of which was won in dramatic fashion in 2005. Real Madrid against Liverpool, a clash of giants. Giant clubs and giant players. Two giant players – Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah. The former, people who aren’t even fans of football have seen on the global stage across the worlds of football, consumerism and public celebrity for almost two decades. The latter, the world outside of football is just starting to get to know.
As a youth player in Egyptian Premier League club El Mokawloon, his dedication and devotion to football was signified by his eight-hour roundtrip from his family’s home in Nagrig, a village in the Gharbia Governorate, on 10 public transport buses for every training session with the squad in Cairo. In 2010, eighteen-year-old Salah was promoted to the first team. A promising two seasons playing in the Egyptian top flight attracted the European talent scouts.
FC Basel of Switzerland signed Salah in 2012, giving him debuts in the UCL and Europa League competitions and domestic cup and league winner’s medals. An impressive display against Chelsea FC in a non-competitive friendly led to a bid by the West London club. In January of 2014, Salah joined the English Premier League (EPL) as a Chelsea player. He didn’t find himself picked very often for the starting line-up, which was why he agreed to be loaned out to Fiorentina and then Roma respectively – two clubs in the Serie A, Italy’s premier division league. Roma ended up acquiring him on a permanent contract in 2016, after Chelsea deemed him to be surplus to requirements.
Two seasons of playing regularly in the starting line-up reignited Salah’s talent. Thirty-five goals and 24 assists in 81 appearances in Serie A piqued the interest of the tactical manager of Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp. He was desperate for a speedy player to feed the Liverpool center forwards and mirror their left attacking forward, Sadio Mané. Klopp and the faithful Liverpool supporters got all of that and then some. They acquired a talented player on the verge of greatness and a great role model for young footballers and admirers to learn from, on and off the football pitch.
Not one to forget his humble roots, Salah built a school in his hometown and provided medical gear and supplies for the village’s clinics, hospitals and ambulances. In 2013, already a national team fan-favorite, he got married in Nagrig and invited the whole village to attend the celebration. If that wasn’t enough to convince someone of his genuine kindness, a certain thief will. After a thief was caught robbing his home and charges were filed by his father, Salah insisted that the charges be dropped. He gave the thief a sum of money instead and even helped him find a job.
Today, Mohamed Salah Ghaly is simply known as “Mo Salah.” Or “The Pharaoh of Anfield.” Or “The Egyptian Messi.” The nicknames kept coming just as often as his goals did this season. He has entered the early hours of his prime, the period of time when a player is playing at his highest personal level of football. He was relatively known in football in the past few years, playing in the Swiss, English and Italian top division leagues. His talent was undeniable, yet no one could have predicted that Jurgen Klopp’s system would unleash Salah’s talents to this effect. He had a sensational season, with club and country.
On the night of October 8 of last year, global media outlets around the world reported scenes from the Egyptian port-city of Alexandria of elated national supporters barely believing, with 60 seconds still left on the clock, that their hero just scored the winning goal against Congo that earned the national team qualification to the peak competition in professional football. Faces of crying fans in the stands and screaming pitch-invaders were broadcasted and shared on social media.
The video of Salah’s goal celebration with the trying voice of the emotional Egyptian match commentator in the background went viral. It was a special moment for the team and the Egyptian people-Egypt had not made an appearance at the World Cup since 1990. But for the man of the moment, it was also just a teaser of what his ferocious spirit was capable of doing in the next eight months.
During those eight months leading on to the final games of the season, the Liverpool supporters fell deeper in love with their exciting right-winger. He was scoring goals for fun in almost every game and setting up or assisting his other teammates’ as well. Salah netted in 44 goals and 16 assists in 55 appearances for the club in all competitions. Thirty-two of those were scored in the EPL, which was the most scored by a player this season, earning him the Premier League Golden Boot. He also picked up three Premier League Player of the Month awards on the way to lifting the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year awards, the two highest individual honors in English football.
Liverpool’s € 42 million investment into Salah was arguably the transfer bargain of the 2017-18 season. He was bought from A.S. Roma early into the summer transfer window in 2017. The transaction came during an inflated market where in that same window Paris Saint-Germain acquired Brazilian winger Neymar from FC Barcelona for a world record fee of € 222 million. Liverpool’s return on their investment has definitely paid off with his goal balance on a steady rise since his competitive debut for the Reds, when he scored two goals in a 3-3 draw at Watford.
After a blistering debut season with Liverpool, many top clubs will be attempting to lure Salah during the summer transfer window, which opens on the 1st of July, to sign a contract with them. His market value has undoubtedly doubled by now. Maybe even tripled. Some say he might even be worth € 223 million.
Many pundits and viewers agree that Salah is a sure name to be featured on the shortlist for the Ballon d’Or, the award for the world’s best football player of the year. No player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi has won that award in the past decade, each winning it five times.
Talks of Salah possibly lifting the illustrious trophy himself certainly got louder during the business end of this season. Especially after claiming multiple individual awards and breaking a number of long-standing records. Defeating Real Madrid in the UCL Final in his first season at a club would be a towering leap towards truly challenging for the title of the world’s best footballer of the year.
Whether he walks onto the pitch in Yekaterinburg, Russia for Egypt’s first match in the World Cup as a UCL winner or not, Mohamed Salah has won the respect, recognition and resting hearts of millions around the world. He knows much is expected from him. Egyptians and many of his Middle Eastern supporters are hoping a masterclass by Salah and his national teammates’ performances will drive them beyond the group stage of the competition and into the last-16, a position Egypt has never achieved. That pressure will certainly be on the national team as a whole, Mo Salah cannot possibly shoulder that hope alone. Or can he?
Want to know more about Mo Salah? Click the image below to see a larger version of our infographic.
Featured image sourced from Getty.