Mohamed Salah represented Egypt during this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations but it was a testing experience for the forward as the team were eliminated by South Africa in the round of 16.
The Liverpool star has endured a difficult relationship with the Egyptian Football Association in recent years and things grew increasingly tense when the host nation exited the competition. Manager Javier Aguirre was dismissed and EFA president Hany Abo Rida resigned.
“We didn’t perform at the top level – I’m not just talking about as players but as a team, but there was a lot of pressure,” he told CNN in an exclusive interview. “For the players in the national team, they were not happy about a lot of things.”
Salah admits to having several run-ins with the federation, even going as far as to call their exchanges a “competition”.
“The federation take it as a competition with me. My position’s a little bit different than the players, so not because I’m a star, but because it makes me comfortable,” he added. “For example, African Nations, we went in the hotel and people come to the hotel very easy, they sit downstairs, which is not normal. We had one day off and I couldn’t go down from the room until 9:30pm.
“When I tried to go down, 200 people were with me. And they say, ‘Why are you complaining?’ I complain because I’m a human being, I want to be with the players.”
Despite the struggles that come with the job, Salah insists he has no plans to walk away from international football and enjoys representing his country.
“I love this country. When I left Egypt at 19, something pushed me forward to perform, to be iconic for the kids, for the kids to dream one day to be like me – it was in my mind,” he said. “I want to be that person. So, to retire from the national team is something huge for me inside.”
During their Africa Cup of Nations campaign, controversy as well as disappointment also followed the team. Amr Wahda was reinstated in the squad despite his earlier expulsion on the basis of sexual harassment allegations from a Dubai-based Egyptian model.
A players’ revolt was cited as the reason behind Wahda’s inclusion and Salah’s tweet made him the face of it. It read: “many who make mistakes can change for the better and shouldn’t be sent to the guillotine, which is the easiest way out.”
The 27-year-old came under heavy criticism in the media but denies any involvement in Wahda’s reinstatement.
“I am not the national team captain and am not the team manager or coach. If I was that powerful I could have changed a lot of things there. I am a player but they just put it on me,” he said.
“What I meant by the tweet is, that [sexual harassment] happened before and is happening now. He has to get treatment and rehabilitation to make sure it is not going to happen again. I mean not someone in particular, but in general,” he said.
“People misunderstand what I am saying. Women have to have their rights in the Middle East. First we have to accept that there is a problem – and that is very difficult to accept as the problem is running deep.
“Second, the woman has the right to talk about anything. When my daughter has a problem, she has to feel support from me, to come to me to talk about the problem. The most important thing is the fear of the wife, the fear from her husband, from her father. The fear is not healthy for anyone, so we have to fix that.”
Those changes are something Salah believes he’s now in a position to affect as he describes himself as “that person now who is fighting the subject and can see that it is very wrong”.
It’s a standing he’s been afforded since being elevated to superstar status at Liverpool. The forward has been the club’s most prolific scorer since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2017 before tasting Champions League glory last season – a memory he holds dear.
He said: “It’s a dream for everyone, the city, the player, to win a Champions League, something great and something very big. So everyone was having that moment, I was like feeling like a kid dream comes true.”
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