That Mohamed Salah has been one of the outstanding players of this season is, in itself, a remarkable achievement, given the discussion rarely goes beyond Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi while his nearest rival, Kevin de Bruyne, has been at the heart of a historically dominant Manchester City side.
But what sets Salah apart is the fact that he is easily this season’s best story. The smile constantly on his face, the humility everyone instantly cites when talking about the Liverpool man, and the significance he holds back in his home country of Egypt, the Arab world, and for Muslims alike make him so much more than a lavishly gifted player having a stunning season.
Just see the way his first coach, Hamdi Noor, speaks of him.
“Captain Mohamed you are my son, you’ve made me and the entirety of Egypt happy,” Noor said to Salah in a message for his former protégé, as part of a CNN exclusive on the Liverpool winger.
“I consider myself like your father exactly and I’m very happy that people come tell me ‘Your son Mohamed did this…Your son Mohamed did that’.
“Even the injury you sustained, people come ask me ‘We hope the injury was mild’. I hope you go back to the field, recovered, and may you make Egypt happier and happier.
“And may you make your friends and fans happy. Your fans who are now all over the world, all over the world, who love you because you deserve all the best. Thank you.”
Noor has known Salah since the latter was a boy, when he had to travel eight to 10 hours a day to train with Cairo’s El Mokawloon club as he pursued his football dream, and there is a relationship of deep admiration, respect, and love between the two.
“I miss him a lot,” Salah said upon hearing the message. “I have emotions when I see him, or when I meet him.
“He’s like my second father, I remember when I was 14 and 15 years old, we had worked together for one year, one and a half, I used to wake up like 6 in the morning every day to train with him alone, for the skills, shooting, that stuff. I was very young, I was 15 years old, so I love him.
“He helped me a lot. He’s one of the coaches I love the most, so I have to thank him for everything he has done with me and I can’t forget him. I’m sure when I go to Egypt next time I will see him.”
His first coach undoubtedly shaped his formative years, but Salah’s true potential has been unlocked by his current manager, Jurgen Klopp, who has given the Egyptian a role which suits him perfectly.
“I think he made a difference. He’s a great, great coach, also a great man,” the 25-year-old says of Klopp.
“He helped me a lot to improve myself. I have also confidence to play what I want. We have a good relationship together.”
That confidence has been parlayed into a season which has brought 43 club goals and counting, earning comparisons with Messi and Ronaldo. Indeed, Salah is now the joint-favourite with Ronaldo for this year’s Ballon d’Or, with the two set to face off in the Champions League final later this month.
We’re perhaps the closest we’ve been in years to a non-Messi or Ronaldo winner of the Ballon d’Or.— Jordan Clarke (@FourFourJordan) May 2, 2018
Mo Salah is 90 minutes away. If Liverpool win and he scores, it would take a miracle to stop him winning it.
Being mentioned in the same breath as two players who will go down as among the greatest to have ever played the game is high praise, but the humble Salah takes it in his stride, preferring to measure himself against the targets he set for the season rather than football’s star duo.
“I consider myself… No, for me, I know from the beginning of the season, I said I have a target in my mind,” Salah said.
“I’m happy about what I’ve done until now, and I want to keep doing that until the last game, so yeah, we’re going to see.”
No doubt the biggest target for his club season is to win the Champions League, having come through a bittersweet semi-final clash against former club Roma to reach the final. Salah’s performance in the first leg was otherworldly – two goals and two assists as Liverpool put the Italian side to the sword – but throughout the tie his affection for his former team was palpable, and it’s reflected in the player he names as his footballing idol.
“The Brazilian Ronaldo…and [Francesco] Totti,” says Salah, who played alongside the Roma legend for two seasons. “He’s unbelievable, he’s quality.
“As a person too he’s quality. He’s calm, great great, very quiet and the confidence about him. I learnt a lot from him.”
It was Salah’s displays in the Italian capital which persuaded Liverpool to fork out a reported £36.9 million fee last summer, despite the Egyptian having had an underwhelming spell in the Premier League with Chelsea earlier in his career.
Salah doesn’t mince his words when talking about his time at the London club, where he rarely got the chance to play under then-Blues manager Jose Mourinho after joining in 2014. He was loaned out to Fiorentina in February 2015 and then to Roma later that year, before the move was made permanent in the summer of 2016.
“I didn’t have my chance here, so I must leave,” he added. “In my mind, I don’t want to be someone sitting on the bench, and waiting to be number four or five or play two minutes and he’s still in the big club. It doesn’t work.
“I went to Fiorentina, and then after I went to Rome, I had two season and a half there in both clubs. I did very well there. And when I had a chance to come back, I said yeah, it’s time to come back to England.”
Just as stunning as his second spell in England has been his play for his national team. Salah scored a dramatic injury-time penalty last October to book Egypt’s spot in this summer’s World Cup, their first appearance at football’s showpiece event since 1990.
It was a moment which sent Egypt into raptures, with people celebrating on the streets, and fans found a novel way to show just how much Salah means to them.
In this year’s presidential election, Salah finished as the runner-up as people wrote his name into their ballots in a bid to make the man styled by Liverpool fans as “the Egyptian King” their president.
Mohamed Salah received over 1 million votes in the Egyptian presidential election. He wasn’t a candidate. 😂 pic.twitter.com/eXRGQeJ4BA— LFCVine (@LFCVine) March 31, 2018
While that didn’t happen, he will of course be leading his side at the World Cup, where Salah says the Pharaohs are not there to make up the numbers.
“We are new players together … most of us the same age, who played together on the national team on the 21 and under 17,” Salah says of his side, who are in a group with Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, and hosts Russia.
“Yeah, we will qualify [from the group]. Of course, you have a difficult group, but we go with the confidence, I’m sure we will qualify.”
The clash with Saudi Arabia could hold special significance, as the two Middle Eastern nations go head-to-head with one of their players now hailed as among the best in the world.
Salah is an inspiration to young fans in Egypt and across the region, not least for his famous goal celebration, prostrating himself on the ground as millions of Muslims do everywhere in the world.
“[It’s] something like praying or like thank the God for what I have received,” Salah explains of his celebration. “It’s just praying. Praying for a win. [I’ve] always done that since I was young. Everywhere.”
That celebration has now become one of football’s most iconic – testament to what the Egyptian has achieved in a season of brilliance.
Quotes taken from CNN’s exclusive interview with Mohamed Salah.
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has been voted the 2018 Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.
The Egypt international narrowly topped the poll of the 400-strong FWA membership ahead of Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, the margin understood to be less than 20 votes.
Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane was in third place.
Between them, Salah, signed by the Reds from Roma during the summer, and De Bruyne, who helped City claim the Premier League title with five games still remaining, collected more than 90 per cent of the journalists’ votes.
Salah, who struggled to make an impact during his first spell in England at Chelsea, has scored 43 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions for Jurgen Klopp’s side this season.
The Egyptian has spearheaded Liverpool’s push towards a potential place in the Champions League
final – the Reds lead Roma 5-2 ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final second leg in Italy.
The 25-year-old becomes the first African winner of the prestigious FWA accolade, which has been awarded since 1948.
Tuesday’s announcement sees Salah complete a personal double, having last month been named the 2017-18 Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year, finishing ahead of De Bruyne and Kane in the vote of their peers.
Salah will be presented with the 2018 FWA Footballer of the Year trophy at The Landmark London on May 10.
Chelsea and England forward Fran Kirby was last week announced as the inaugural FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year, which will be presented during the same gala dinner.
FWA chairman Patrick Barclay said: “It has been the tightest call since 1968/69, when there was a dead heat between Tony Book of Manchester City and Derby’s Dave Mackay.
“Right up to the last week or so we thought it might happen again, so strong was the support for Kevin De Bruyne, but Mo Salah’s relentless match-winning form, exemplified by his two great goals against Roma, seems to have swung the vote by a very narrow margin.
“What a race it has been between two players who, in a relatively short time, have reached genuine world class, but Mo Salah is the worthiest of winners.”
Barclay added on the FWA website: “He is also the first African to receive the award and we congratulate him on a magnificent season.”
Other players to receive votes from FWA members were, in alphabetical order: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Nick Pope (Burnley), David Silva (Manchester City), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) and Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).
More to follow …
Mohamed Salah will not face disciplinary action for his clash with Stoke’s Bruno Martins Indi at the weekend, Press Association Sport understands.
The Liverpool forward flicked an arm out at the Potters defender off the ball during Saturday’s goalless draw at Anfield, but the incident was not seen by referee Andre Marriner.
A three-man panel of ex-referees reviewed the incident and decided it did not qualify as an act of violent conduct.
Salah, the Premier League’s top scorer this term, could have been looking at a three-match ban from the football Association had they decided differently.
He is now available to face former club Chelsea on Sunday and Brighton in Liverpool’s final Premier League fixture of the season on May 13.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 30, 2018
Liverpool sit six points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and Salah will hope to secure a victory for the Reds which will guarantee their place in the Champions League group stages next season.
The Egypt international has been in stunning form this term, scoring 43 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions, and has already collected the PFA player of the year award.
The 25-year-old looks set to add to his individual accolades, with the forward being the front-runner to win the football Writers’ Association footballer of the year award on Tuesday.
Provided by Press Association Sport