Egyptian football

Sun god, star, Mo Salah

Just weeks before the start of the FIFA World Cup, excitement in Egypt has reached fever pitch. What's causing the mania? The Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, currently tipped as the best football player in the world. By Bachir Amroune

With two goals and two assists he played a decisive role in Liverpool's 5-2 win against Roma in the recent first leg of the Champions' League semi-final. For several months now, the Egyptian national Mohamed Salah has been feted as a phenomenal figure on the global soccer stage. Many commentators now rate him as the best football player in the world, even better than Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Itʹs a view that is backed up by the stats: he's notched up 43 goals in just 47 official matches in the current season.

Snapping him up appears to have been good business: for 42 million euros the 25-year-old transferred last summer from Roma to the English premier league club, which has now secured its place in the final of the world's biggest club football competition following a 7-6 aggregate win last Wednesday (2 May). Mohamed Salah earned his first spurs in European professional football with the club Basel. After one season he transferred to Chelsea, before being loaned to Florence and finally ending up in Rome.

King of hearts

It's not surprising that this kind of success has the fans delirious with enthusiasm. But Mo Salah, affectionately known as The King or The Pharaoh, personifies more than this. He's hard-working and modest, without the same airs and graces as other football mega-stars.

At the first semi-final match against Roma, he even apologised to fans of his former club for his two goals. As for the Romans themselves, they have good memories of his time with the squad. Following the semi-final draw they took to Twitter to express their affection for The King, writing: "We'll be opponents for 180 minutes, but no matter what happens, we'll stay friends for life".

Mo Salah in action against AS Roma in Liverpool on 24.04.2018 (photo: Reuters)
A role model, both on and off the pitch. Mohamed Salahʹs huge popularity can be attributed to his unassuming image. He has already donated millions of euros to hospitals, schools and football pitches in his home country, Egypt. "Mo is a great guy," declares Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp

Some of the fan chants at FC Liverpool are testament to the extraordinary dimensions of Mo Salah's popularity. For example: "If he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too. If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me. He’s sitting in a mosque, that’s where I want to be."

Of course, this shouldn't be taken literally and is partly down to achieving a nice rhyme, but it nevertheless speaks volumes in view of the fact that the English football league is viewed as one of the most racist in Europe.

Many Arabs and Egyptians are therefore hopeful that Salah, who is a devout Muslim and often prostrates himself as though in prayer after scoring a goal, can exert a positive influence on an image of Islam otherwise characterised by terror and violence in British (and western) societies.

National hero

In his homeland Egypt, everyone is talking about Mohamed Salah. In the last presidential election, Africa's Footballer of the Year apparently won a million votes – without even standing as a candidate.

In the qualifying rounds for the World Cup in Russia, he catapulted the national team into the finals almost single-handedly, scoring five goals and helping to set up the remaining two. Football-crazy Egyptians have been waiting to qualify for the World Cup for 28 years.

Because Mo Salah made his debut with the Egyptian premier league club El Mokawloon SC (Arab Contractors' Sporting Club) and only left his home country for Switzerland at the age of 20, his compatriots are especially proud of him. This is because unlike other Arab soccer stars, he learned the tools of his trade in Egypt and not at one of the top European clubs. 

For a nation that, due to huge economic problems, large-scale political repression and terror, seldom generates any positive headlines at present, this is a major source of hope.

Bachir Amroune

© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de 2018

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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