Mo Salah, Liverpool icon and embodiment of Egyptian football dreams

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Mohamed Salah, one of today’s greatest footballers, is synonymous with Liverpool’s transformation into an unstoppable attacking heavyweight who won a once elusive Premier League title in 2019-2020. But Salah is yet to produce anything like this sparkling success for the Egyptian national team, who are hoping this year’s Africa Cup of Nations will be their moment of glory.

With their signature Scouse spirit, Liverpool fans express their love for Mo Salah by singing to the tune of Dodgy’s 1996 Britpop hit Good Enough: “Mo Sa-la-la-la-lah, Mo Sa-la- la-la-lah, if he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, if he scores a few more, then I’ll be a Muslim too ”.

Since this chant was first sung around Anfield in 2018, Salah has retained his astonishing form – characterized by ingenious dribbling movements, an almost clairvoyant ability to read the game in advance, and finishing skills. deadly.

When Liverpool beat bitter rivals Manchester United 5-0 at Old Trafford in October – a game that will undoubtedly live on in Scouse tradition forever – Salah scored a hat-trick and surpassed the former’s record of 104 goals. Chelsea hero Didier Drogba to become the best African player in Premier League history.

Heroes of liverpool

After a disappointing start at Chelsea, Salah’s talent blossomed during his two seasons at AS Roma from 2015 to 2017. Liverpool shelled him out € 42million in 2017, making Salah the African player on top. most expensive in football history – as the club were determined to take charge of their Premiership dream, reinvigorated by the visionary management style of their German boss Jürgen Klopp.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdvPbT_9Hxw Goals of Salah in Rome

It was an explosive first year at Anfield: As Liverpool hammered ex-club Roma 5-2 in the Champions League semi-final first leg, Salah scored a brace, becoming the first African player to score 10 goals in the competition in a single season. By the end of 2017-18, Salah had not only broken Robbie Fowler’s record of 36 goals in one season, he had also become the Premier League’s top scorer in one season, scoring the back of the net 32 ​​times.

“We are seeing the start of greatness,” Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard told reporters of Salah that season.

Salah’s best goals for Liverpool

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UStCZ9kNies Salah was instrumental in Liverpool’s success the following season – scoring a penalty kick in their 2019 Champions League final win over Tottenham, the same season in which he won a second Premier League Golden Boot alongside fellow Africans Sadio Mané and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Then came the most coveted prize for Liverpool fans: the Premier League title, in 2019-20. Fittingly with Salah’s role as Liverpool’s attacking talisman, he scored in the Reds’ two most iconic games of their glorious season.

First there were the penalties crushed in the lower corner with impeccable confidence in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over West Ham in January 2020 – the game which meant they had beaten all of the English top flight. of that year; the first time Liverpool had achieved such a feat in their 127 year history.

Two months later, Salah returned to respond to a slightly offbeat pass from Sadio Mané, evaded opposition defense and slipped the ball into the net as the Reds beat Bournemouth 2-1 – helping Liverpool give away another tally well beyond anything they achieved during their dominance of English football in the 1980s, as this 22nd straight win at Anfield broke the record for home wins in the English top flight .

Used by the Sissi diet?

Salah retains great pride in his Egyptian roots amidst this resounding success. “To be an Egyptian at this level is amazing for me,” he told reporters after winning the 2018-19 Champions League trophy.

Indeed, Salah gained colossal popularity in Egypt for his actions outside of the beautiful game – such as building a hospital, schools, a religious institute and of course a soccer field in his native village. from Nagrig, some 80 miles north of Cairo. Salah has also garnered a lot of attention in his homeland for speaking out against drug use and violence against women.

In recent days, the Liverpool star has received even more praise for helping fight anti-vax sentiment in Egypt by urging his compatriots to get the jab against Covid-19.

A devout Muslim, Salah returns to his hometown every year for Ramadan, prays five times a day despite a busy play and training schedule, and celebrates each of his goals with a prayer of thanks to Allah.

Salah’s popularity in Egypt is such that in the 2018 presidential elections – widely seen as rigged to give incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a landslide victory – the Liverpool forward is said to have received a million votes from Egyptians who won crossed out the names of the other candidates and wrote Mohamed Salah, even though he had shown no interest in participating in these polls.

“Mohamed Salah is extremely evasive about his political views,” Suzan Gibril, an expert in Middle East sports policy at the CEVIPOL think tank in Paris and at the Observatory of the Arab and Muslim Worlds in Brussels, told AXADLETM. “He remains politically neutral while shining on the football field, appealing to everyone: Muslims, Coptic Christians, Islamists, revolutionaries, secularists, liberal left parties and populists.

“Salah is the archetype of the Egyptian model,” Gibril continued. “He leads a very healthy life – he doesn’t smoke; he does not drink. He is considered a model Muslim, a generous person and above all an incredible athlete considered one of the best African footballers of all time.

Salah’s status as an accomplished footballer makes him useful to Sisi’s government – which sees him as an “icon of Egyptian soft power,” in the words of former Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid.

The Egyptian government even put the Liverpool icon on the national curriculum in October, including lessons on Salah in a course called “Set an Example of a Successful Hero” taught in second year of secondary school. Salah’s footballing career and philanthropic efforts deserve to be taught in schools because “he is a hero and a role model for his moral and material support to his compatriots,” said Nawal Shalaby, head of Egyptian school programs.

Salah provides a “form of propaganda” that the Egyptian regime can use to “establish its power” and “make itself visible on the international stage,” Gibril said: “The figure of Salah allows him to boast of his moral worth and of its modernity ”.

But the Egyptian government’s use of Salah for political purposes created tensions with the Liverpool talisman. In April 2018, Salah complained that the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) had his image pasted on the side of the team’s official plane. The unauthorized move created a sticky legal situation as the plane was supplied by Egyptian team sponsor WE, while Salah had a sponsorship deal linking his image to that of rival telecommunications company Vodafone.

At the Russian World Cup a few months later, Salah was forced to pose with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as Egypt trained in the province. Rights groups denounced Kadyrov for extrajudicial killings and torture of homosexuals.

Throughout the summer of 2018, rumors circulated that Salah took early retirement from international football as his lawyers made a series of demands regarding violations of his image rights, including that staff at the ‘EFA no longer asks him for photos or autographs.

The legal feud ended in September 2018, with EFA agreeing not to arrogate to itself the right to use Salah in promotional efforts.

“Salah’s lawyers made a lot of noise, mobilizing Egyptian society and pressuring the regime to find a compromise,” Gibril said.

After this dispute was resolved, Salah was embroiled in a controversy ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations as his teammate Amr Warda was kicked from the squad by EFA over allegations of sexual harassment and then reinstated. under pressure from the players. Salah – who has spoken out in favor of gender equality in the Middle East – supported Warda, writing on Twitter that “we have to believe in second chances” and that “avoidance is not the answer “.

Defeat against South Africa

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUW_j51cibE A disappointing tournament followed. The Pharaohs, as they are known, were the favorites thanks to Salah’s presence and a home advantage as they hosted the competition. But Egypt’s hopes died not with a bang but with a groan as Egypt were knocked out in the round of 16 – in a 1-0 loss to South Africa.

Two and a half years later, Salah once again embodies the Egyptians’ hopes for footballing glory as they prepare for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. But they’ll face a tough fight: While Salah is arguably the best player in the tournament, the Pharaohs lack star talent elsewhere on the pitch. The closest they come is with Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, a strong defensive midfielder but hardly a transformational presence.

More than ever, Egyptian fans must hope that the player who helped bring a coveted league title to Merseyside will play an even bigger role in handing over the African Cup of Nations trophy to Cairo.

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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