Salah is African player of the year: how great is he? – UEFA Champions League – News
“I don’t go to bed every night and wonder: ‘Wow, how good is Salah?’,” said Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp recently, but plenty of Reds fans do. After the 25-year-old was named African Player of the Year – the first Egyptian to be honoured as such since Mahmoud El Khatib in 1983 – UEFA.com gives the winger his due.
What they say
“Mohamed was willing to sacrifice everything. I told him to keep a timetable: no staying up late watching TV, no getting out of bed late. He didn’t. He lived as he should. He would pray and then go to sleep early. I am not the man who made him but I know he listened to me. He listened to everyone.”
Hamdi Nooh, former al-Mokawloon coach
“He could compete in a race with Usain Bolt.”
Murat Yakin, former Basel coach
“He is still my friend and we are still in contact. He’s a top, top, top player. He did not get his chance at Chelsea.”
Eden Hazard, Chelsea midfielder
“We knew about his superb qualities, but we did not expect him to have such an impact on Italian football. Perhaps only Messi is faster than him with the ball at his feet.”
Vincenzo Montella, former Fiorentina coach
“I’m very happy for Mo – he is the king of Egypt! He has done amazingly so far. He has scored a lot of goals, he has played brilliantly. Off the pitch, he is a very good guy. He is an amazing signing for us.”
Emre Can, Liverpool midfielder
“If he had played better at Chelsea, we’d probably not have had him – so I am happy at the situation … His desire to score goals is at the highest level. He is angry at me when I take him off after 65 minutes or so. That’s the mentality you need.”
Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager
International: 56 appearances, 32 goals
UEFA club competition: 59 appearances, 17 goals
European domestic competition: 159 appearances, 63 goals
Claims to fame
• Signed his first professional contract with al-Mokawloon (aka Arab Contractors) at 14, but his journey to Cairo involved a mammoth daily round trip from his home village. “I’d have to transfer buses three, four or even sometimes five times just to arrive at training and then back home again,” he remembered.
• Played regularly for the club from 2010 to February 2012, when a stadium disaster prompted the cancellation of the remainder of the season. He was recruited by Basel after they arranged a March 2012 friendly against Egypt’s U23 side. Salah came on at the break, scored twice and signed for the Swiss club that April.
• Basel won the league in his only full season in Switzerland – and retained it after his January 2014 exit. Salah also helped the Swiss team reach the UEFA Europa League semis of 2012/13, where they lost to his next club, Chelsea. He scored at Stamford Bridge in that tie, and did so again in home and away games against the Blues in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League group stage.
• Brilliant as he was, Salah’s tendency to miss chances was much commented on at Basel. “If Mohamed could score as well, he would not be here any more – or he would not have come in the first place,” joked coach Murat Yakin. President Bernhard Heusler added: “If he was more clinical, his value would have another zero!”
• Salah’s opportunities were to be limited at Stamford Bridge: he netted just twice in 13 matches for the Londoners – one goal less than in his three games against Chelsea for Basel.
• José Mourinho has been asked since to justify his decision to let Salah leave Stamford Bridge – initially on loan to Fiorentina. “I was aware of his great capabilities when he was with me at Chelsea,” he said. “He improved in Italy, became more mature and improved physically. Players need time to adapt to new teams. Some remain, others prefer to move to another club. It is normal in football.”
• Chose 74 as his squad number at Fiorentina in honour of the 74 fans killed in the Port Said stadium disaster that hastened his departure from Egypt for Basel.
• Was a losing UEFA Europa League semi-finalist again with the Viola – they succumbed to eventual winners Sevilla – yet Salah really shone in Florence, scoring six Serie A goals in his four-month stint.
• Claimed two great strikes as Fiorentina ended Juventus’s two-year unbeaten home run with a 2-1 Coppa Italia semi-final success on 5 March 2015. It was calculated that he ran 70 metres in seven seconds to score the first.
• Rejected a permanent move to Fiorentina to join Roma in summer 2015, initially on a season-long loan. He scored five times in his first nine Serie A games; of all the Giallorossi players since World War II, only Gabriel Batistuta (nine in nine in 2000/01) had enjoyed a better start to a Roma career.
• Bagged a personal-best 14 Serie A goals in 2015/16 and was named Roma’s player of the season. He made his transfer from Chelsea permanent that summer, and went one goal better with 15 in 2016/17 – a total he has already bettered at Anfield.
• Became Liverpool’s first Egyptian player when he arrived for a then-record fee, reported to be €42m (with the potential to rise to €50m) in August 2017.
• On 25 November, Salah notched his tenth Liverpool goal in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea, matching Daniel Sturridge’s record of scoring his tenth for the club inside his first 13 games. Honouring a pre-match promise, he swapped shirts with former team-mate Eden Hazard afterwards.
• Reached 20 goals in a 4-0 win at Bournemouth on 17 December, becoming the first Reds player to hit 20 in a season before Christmas since Ian Rush in 1986/87. “I do not want to play Liverpool again any time soon,” said Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.
• Scored 23 goals (17 Premier League, 6 UEFA Champions League) before the new year, equalling a club record set by Roger Hunt in 1961/62. That tally made him the Reds’ top marksman of 2017 and eclipsed the all-competition tallies of eight Premier League sides in 2017/18: Crystal Palace, Burnley, Brighton, Swansea, West Brom, Huddersfield, Southampton and Newcastle.
• Made his senior international debut on 3 September 2011 (a 2-1 defeat by Sierra Leone) and registered his first Egypt goal in a 3-0 win over Niger on 8 October that year.
• Helped Egypt to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations final – his team losing 2-1 to Cameroon – and masterminded their qualification for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. “Salah had a hand in all seven goals that took us to Russia – two assists, plus scoring five of his own,” explained Egypt’s assistant coach Mahmoud Fayez.
What you might not know
• Has made more UEFA club competition appearances (59) and scored more European goals (17) than any other Egyptian player, and holds similar records in the UEFA Champions League per se: 31 appearances, 12 goals.
• Has struck just one professional hat-trick in his career, getting all three goals in Roma’s 3-0 home victory over Bologna on 6 November 2016.
• Remains a popular figure in his home village of Nagrig, one childhood friend saying: “He still comes back to Nagrig every Ramadan to present prizes to local kids. He comes here, he plays table tennis and pool. When he comes back, he signs every autograph, stands for every picture. He hasn’t changed.”
• Married his wife Magi in Nagrig on 17 December 2013; their daughter Makka was born in England.
• Is known for his generous nature. According to local legend, when a man was arrested for burgling his family home in Egypt, Salah persuaded his father not to press charges, instead giving the burglar money so he could get himself settled, and trying to help him find a job.
• Does not enjoy interviews. In a celebrated 12-question chat with the Liverpool Echo newspaper he came up with just 109 words in response. Key exchanges:
What was the last lie you told?
“I never lie.”
What is the first thing you do every morning?
“The first thing I do each morning is smile and keep quiet for a couple of minutes.”
What is your perfect day off?
“Stay at home, relax, don’t talk to anyone. Don’t do interviews.”
What he does say
“I remember watching the Champions League all the time and then trying to be like the Brazilian Ronaldo, Zidane and Totti when playing out in the street with my friends. I loved those kinds of players – players who played with magic.”
“Since the beginning of my career in football, I have always wanted to win everything. I hope I can become the best player in the history of Egypt, and I work really hard everyday to achieve my objective.”
“[Speaking in 2013 about chances he missed at Basel] Sometimes the ball just doesn’t want to go in, no matter how often you try. In five years’ time, maybe I will take those chances and score.”
What he might achieve yet
• Lead Egypt to victory in a World Cup finals game; absent from the finals since 1990, Egypt are yet to win in four matches at the tournament (D2 L2). Salah could also break the national World Cup finals scoring record of two goals set by Abdulrahman Fawzi in Italy in 1934.
• Become Egypt’s all-time top marksman; he has scored 32 so far, and is fifth in the all-time rankings, though he has a way to go to equal Hossam Hassan’s national record of 70.
• Win a UEFA club competition; a losing UEFA Europa League semi-finalist with Basel and Fiorentina, he has yet to play beyond the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League – his Roma side having bowed out to Real Madrid at that stage in 2015/16.
• Smash more scoring records at Liverpool. He needs 16 more to break Rush’s top-flight club scoring record (32, 1983/84) and another 25 to top the Welshman’s best single-season all-competition haul (47 from the same season).