HAVE just returned from a trip to the mega bustling metropolis of Cairo, Egypt and with the crunch top-of-the-table clash this weekend between Manchester City and Liverpool,
I decided to pyramid in on Mohamed Salah the modern Egyptian wonder of the world and provide some insight on football in the land of his birth in the hope that it may perhaps give us a deeper understanding of the magnitude of his achievements as well as his stature in the world game.
It’s honestly not an exaggeration to state that Egyptians are amongst the most ardent enthusiasts and followers of the beautiful game.
Not only have they all played the game,but they also all understand the rules and intricacies of the game at a level that Howard Webb and his spineless team who run VAR in the EPL would do well to follow!
Every single Egyptian I met wanted to talk the language of football at every opportunity.
Every Egyptian I met had an unbridled passion and desire for their own local Egyptian team such as Zamalek or Al Ahly, but above all, every Egyptian I met had a love and profound respect for Mohamed Salah and a genuine gratitude for all he’s achieved and done to cement Egypt’s reputation as a producer of outstanding world class footballing talent.
Mohamed Salah was born into this very environment thirty one years ago.
A slow starter, it was a move to Basel in Switzerland which first propelled him onto the world stage.
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As a nimble wide player, he was to find the going unsurprisingly tough and unrewarding in the early stages.
He was unable at first to deal with the close marking and undue attention, he did not appreciate the kicks and bruises to his slim shins that the Europeans deemed part and parcel of the game and he was not partial to the unreasonably cold blistering winters that Europe routinely served up.And to make it worse, no one talked or walked like an Egyptian!
Not surprisingly, like many young aspiring talents who have left the comforts of their home, he temporarily contemplated the possibility of a return back to Egypt(Liverpool fans will be most grateful that this did not occur and that he eventually found his way to Anfield!).
Home after all was the where the heart was and he would have been welcomed back with open arms at any of the huge football clubs in his homeland.
In fact not only would he have been warmly welcomed back, but the local populace would not have criticized or ridiculed him for returning back empty handed.
Rather, they would have understood his desire to return home, they would have appreciated his keenness to rekindle his bond with his family and culture and would have possibly applauded him for having the honesty and brazenness to turn his back on his foreign escapade, as well as having the courage to admit to his failings.
You might consider this perspective massively flawed, but it’s my understanding of a people who are fiercely partisan and patriotically proud of their country and all it stands for.
I conversed with a number of locals who shared their opinions on the the state of the game worldwide as well as in their motherland.
They all professed first and foremost to be fanatical fans of their local teams and I realized very quickly that the local game is what is uppermost in their hearts and minds.
(For the record, my learned hosts usually preferred to talk about Zamalek, Al Ahly, Pitso Mosimane and Patrice Motsepe rather than the EPL title race!)Their football clubs, mind you are well run professional institutions that have always paid well above average and treat their players with respect and dignity.
On the other hand, the majority of football fans in Africa these days identify first and foremost with an EPL giant club and occasionally,
Real or Barca from the Spanish League. In Egypt though,I got the distinct feeling that the fans have a love for their own first, followed by a foreign team second.
It’s one of the reasons why I believe that Egypt,this huge reservoir of football talent fails to export its players in bulk to Europe.
It’s peculiar that a nation which has historically dominated the African version of the Champions League, which has the most wins in the African Nations League and whose national side are always amongst Africa’s best, contributes so few players to the make up of the top European Leagues.
As an example, the Pharaohs currently only have two players in the EPL in Salah at Liverpool and Mohamed Elneny at Arsenal.
Compare that with the loads of West Africans who leave their homes for Europe each year; contrast that with all the North African talents who end up in France each year and then ask yourself why generally Egyptian players remain tied to their homeland.
Is it simply that the Egyptian players plying their trade in their own league have no desperate need to get out of this well run and paid comfort zone?
In the last 10 years Egypt has embarked on a tremendously successful industrialization drive which has seen the country quickly develop into a strong economic powerhouse.
Consequently very few Egyptians see the need to leave their shores with most believing the situation in their country to be much more favorable than other nations, while there is also a deep sense of pride at the progress their nation is making.
When you throw in the strong cultural affiliation to their homeland, one begins to understand why the average Egyptian football player on a pretty decent salary in an environment where he is lauded and one in which he thrives in, is unlikely to have the desire to attempt to scale the next tier of European football.
It’s also subsequently what makes Mo Salah’s success even more remarkable.
Several times along his journey to Anfield legendary status, he could have opted out when the going got tough as it did indeed at Chelsea when he was considered an unnecessary luxury by none other than Jose Mourinho.
Instead Salah dug his heels in, proved his mettle and confounded all his critics after securing a move to Liverpool from Roma in 2017.Even then, many including myself weren’t convinced, attributing his success at Roma to a flailing floundering Italian league.
After his initial first season success at Liverpool, we were notoriously quick to label it as a lucky quirky first season which he realistically couldn’t ever duplicate.
How he has loved proving us all so wrong!
Now in his seventh year of glorious footballing success and abundance at Liverpool with victory having been accomplished in both the Champions League in 2019 and the EPL title in 2020;even his harshest critics including yours truly, have had to cave in and give credit to the man from this remote Egyptian village who had to endure unbearable teething difficulties and hardship as well as close to seven years of initial footballing famine. (If he wasn’t blessedly named Mohamed, he might have been renamed Joseph!).
For Liverpool fans no matter how they try to sugarcoat it, not even in their wildest dreams could they ever have imagined such a turnaround.
It also poses the question; does Liverpool’s success in this period owe more to the magnificence of Mo Salah than the presence of Jurgen Klopp himself?
Messi aside; I would have to concede that over the last seven seasons,
I don’t know of a player in Europe’s top leagues who has been so regularly and consistently brilliant.
I’ve no idea whether Salah will remain in the EPL next year with the prospect of an almighty paycheck looming in the post from the Saudis.
What I am sure of though, is that the Liverpool hierarchy should do all in their power to keep him at Anfield.
Mohamed is their golden child, their talisman, their leader and I believe their greatest ever player.
I suspect that the Liverpool famine which will emerge once he departs, might very well be considerably longer than seven years!
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