FIFA World Cup: Mohamed Salah and the revival of Egyptian Football

Infantino thanks Russia for hosting ‘best World Cup ever’

By Jaimer Dela Cruz

Football can be a beautiful game but it can turn ugly once emotions run high. This has been the situation Egypt needed to endure during their darkest days in football and a man used it to boost himself up in the big leagues. That man is Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian King, the Chance Killer, and the Happiness Maker.

Born in the town of Nagrig just outside Cairo, Salah started of his footballing career with El Mokawloon. He would trek for four and a half hours just to train and reach his dreams of representing his country. At a tender age of 19, he earned his first international cap with the Pharaohs but his real breakthrough arrived at the darkest days of Egyptian Football.

Football Mad Country

In a country where football serves as a tool to forget the troubles around them, Egypt has been home to a number of Ultras group. The most famous of them all, Ultras Ahlawy, has set the bar amongst the other Ultras in Egypt. They were best known through their chant “We are Egypt”, which signifies the success of their club who won 40 league titles, 36 Egyptian Cups, and eight CAF Champions League trophies.

Sad to say, politics tarnished the beautiful game in this country as some members of Ultras Ahlawy were involved in political demonstrations together with some members of Ultras White Knights, supporters of Zamalek SC.

In February 2012, 74 fans, may of which are teenagers, went to watch the derby between Al Masry and Al Ahly insde the Port Said stadium but were not able to come back home. During the match, fans from both sides clashed with knives swords and firecrackers.

This tragedy stayed with Salah as he went on to wear the number 74 kit during his loan spell with Fiorentina in memory of those who died in the said incident. The Egyptian government then decided to take down the league for two years due to the said conflict which shed some light to the rise of their Egyptian King.

Salah Basel

With league fixtures postponed, Swiss club Basel arranged a friendly match with Egypt’s U-23 side in a bid to scout some of the country’s rising talents. Salah was then part of the squad and made his mark after he scored two goals during the match. Easy to say, Basel took advantage of the opportunity and signed the prolific winger.

Shortly after his signing, he went on to represent Egypt during the 2012 Olympics in London where he scored on all three group stage matches. Although they would exit later on the quarterfinals, Salah definitely made his mark again and increased his quality and value. During his spell with Basel, he scored nine goals in 47 appearances.

He then made a big move by agreeing to sign with Chelsea FC, making him the first Egyptian to sign for the Blues. Two months after signing for Jose Mourinho’s side, Salah scored his first of many goals in the premier league against Arsenal during the London derby. Despite his amazing performances for the club, Chelsea had to let the winger go on loan as they have a vast number of talents for his position.

Salah Forentina

He was loaned to Fiorentina where he stayed for 18 months to hone his talents. He then scored his first goal for Fiorentina during his debut after just 30 minutes into the game before providing an assist, two minutes from his debut goal. As instrumental as he can be, Salah scored the winning goal for Fiorentina against Inter Milan. He continued his scoring run four days after the game when they faced Juventus in the Coppa Italia Semi-final first leg.

Salah scored both of Fiorentina’s goal in their 2-1 win over the Bianconeris. At the end of the season, Salah refused to make the permanent move with Fiorentina and instead, went to AS Roma where he scored 15 goals in 31 appearances. At the end of the 2014-2015 season, he was named Serie A’s player of the season.

The biggest move in his career happened on the 22nd of June last year. Salah agreed to a long-term contract with Liverpool after a year and a half with Roma. He signed for a record fee of £50m, eclipsing the £35m spent on Andy Carroll in 2011. During his stay with Liverpool, he scored 32 goals out of 36 appearance making him the recipient of the Premier League Golden Boot award.

He’s been awarded the Player of the Season as well and has led his club to a championship appearance in the UEFA Champions League. Although they would finish second, it is no doubt that Salah cemented his position as one of the greats in the modern era.

National Hero

Being dubbed as a superstar for your nation is one thing, but being given the title of National Hero is the biggest title a player will ever have in his career. The hope of a country lies on your shoulders.

Not only he was called a national hero, Salah is dubbed as the Egyptian King. Being called a king comes with a great responsibility and no doubt, he was able to live up to the expectations. Salah scored in all of the four wins his nation notched to reach the finals in Russia proving that he’s the main man and he carries the entire nation behind his back.

His most important and pivotal performance came in on their fifth group stage match against Congo. Needing a win to progress to Russia, Egypt found themselves ahead on the 62nd minute through Salah’s interception which led to a goal before conceding an equalizer on the 87th minute.

No road to glory has been laid out as smooth as silk. It has to be a bumpy one. Difficult it may seem but Salah and the Pharaohs pushed for the win at the dying minutes of the match. They would then grab a late penalty which sent the crowd in pandemonium.

Salah puts the ball on the spot, silence reverberated around the stadium, he looks the keeper in the eyes, runs up to the ball and slotted in past the keeper. It seems as though everything was in slow motion until Salah’s spot kick went in. The crowd are in tears, finally, their nation is going back to the World Cup.

Hero on and off the Pitch

Not only did Salah made heroics during their qualifying campaign, he continued to be the hero Egypt has been looking for off the pitch. After qualifying for the world cup, Salah has been offered a lucrative villa by former Zamalek President Mamdouh Abbas in which he declined and asked for the money to be invested in medical supplies in his hometown Nagrig.

He also invested on building new hospitals and schools and even funded the first ambulance and more expensive medical equipment which helped a lot of people in Nagrig. Salah makes sure as well that he sees the progress himself as he visits his hometown every year during Ramadan.

He maybe remembered by the world as the man who brought Egyptian football back to life, but to his fellow Egyptians, he’s the man who brought hope to this troubled nation and the one who puts the smile on their faces.