Mohamed Salah’s latest spellbinding display against Roma was met by a chorus of Liverpool fans’ incredibly catchy chant hailing their ‘Egyptian King’.
But Salah is more than just a monarch in his home country.
The Reds’ star might be the most important footballer on the planet right now, transcending the beautiful game to provide hope and, in one particular instance, save his country of birth from financial disrepute.
We spoke to Michael Wagdy, an Egyptian doctor and Salah mega fan who lives in Cairo, to help develop our understanding of the 25-year-old’s influence on the normal people back home.
Any gong decided by an online vote or social media poll this season has had a sense of inevitability about it.
This season alone Salah has racked up:
- 6 Liverpool Player of the Month awards – and it would have been five if Reds fans hadn’t given Dejan Lovren the sympathy vote in October
- 6 Liverpool Goal of the Month awards
- 4 PFA Player of the Month awards
- 3 Champions League Player of the Week awards
- 1 Champions League Goal of the Week award
- BBC African Player of the Year award
He also took home the CAF African Player of the Year accolade ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and team-mate Sadio Mane with a jaw dropping 97% of the vote:
The definition of a landslide.
And it’s easy to see why his victories have arrived so regularly and emphatically this season.
“Salah is now considered the most famous person in Egypt,” Wagdy told us.
“He has now become an idol for the people… we now wait for any match for Liverpool and you can’t imagine the happiness that occurs when he scored.”
And that’s coming from a Man United fan.
Hatem Kadous, of the Oild Field Index speaking to the Sunday Times last year, believes Salah boasts the unique ability to unite an entire nation just by stepping onto the field of play.
He said: “He’s [Salah] the only thing keeping Egyptians happy. Go to any coffee shop in Cairo when Liverpool are playing… it’s amazing.
“I have Man United fans messaging me during games saying, ‘This is so hard for me, I don’t know what to do’.”
“For 90 minutes he unites the nation and makes us forget all the crap we’re going through. You don’t have to worry about revolutions, about Islamic Brotherhood, Isis, any of that.
“He scores, we’re happy, we forget. And that echoes round the Middle East.
“[Lionel] Messi doesn’t unite a nation, a region, right? [Cristiano] Ronaldo doesn’t. They don’t have the social dimension.”
In other words, mere mortals like Messi and Ronaldo don’t come close to the joy Salah creates.
Wagdy echoes Salah’s rare unifying effect on a home nation fractured by political disrepute.
Despite supporting the Red Devils since his childhood, Wagdy finds himself glued to the television whenever their arch rivals’ new poster boy is strutting his stuff.
He said: “My favourite team in the Premier League is still Manchester United… but for sure I like to watch Liverpool matches now to see Salah and his perfect style in playing.”
SUCCESS FROM TRAGEDY
Salah’s career was strangely propelled to the next level following the worst disaster in Egypt’s footballing history.
The Port Said riot in February 2012 saw 74 people – many of them teenagers – die after violent clashes between fans of Al-Masry and Al-Ahly.
The rest of the Egyptian league season was unsurprisingly cancelled prematurely as a sign of respect for those that lost their lives.
In the aftermath, Swiss side Basel set up a friendly with Egypt’s Under-23s to scout some of the country’s emerging talents since they couldn’t monitor league games.
Salah was one of them – and he scored twice despite being limited to a second half cameo.
Basel quickly recognised the potential of the then 19-year-old, offering him a four-year contract which he grasped with both hands.
He would later terrorise Chelsea and Tottenham in the Europa League before earning himself a move to Roma.
The disaster lives long in the memory for the 25-year-old though, choosing to wear the number 74 during his loan spell at Fiorentina as a tribute to those that perished.
HIS MOST FAMOUS GOAL
After last night’s virtuoso display Salah’s truly breathtaking debut season at Liverpool reached new levels with his 43rd goal – becoming the top scorer in Europe in all competitions.
But none of those strikes scratch the surface in terms if importance compared with the 95th minute penalty against DR Congo last October that sent all of Egypt into utter pandemonium.
Salah’s injury-time intervention clinched the win his country needed to book their first World Cup appearance since 1990 at Russia this summer.
“No words can describe what I felt when Salah scored,” Wagdy recalls fondly.
“I remember I carried my younger brother and ran all over my home and then went to share this fantastic moments with people in the streets.
“All of Egypt had gone crazy with extreme happiness.”
“Words cannot explain it: 95th minute, 100,000 fans. He’s only 25. You could feel a pin drop when he walked to the ball . . . but we knew our lives were safe in his hands,” Marwan Ahmed of Egyptian website KingFut told The Sunday Times.
On paper Egypt shouldn’t stand a chance in Russia, but with Salah leading the line they know anything is possible.
Salah’s attachment to his country knows no boundaries.
When he refused to celebrate after scoring against former club Chelsea in November, many felt he was simply showing respect for his former employees.
They were of course wrong, with Salah’s muted response in fact a tribute to the 305 people who had died in a terrorist attack in the Egyptian city of Sinai the day before.
He runs a charity, sending clothes back home and returning to feed people during Ramadan.
The 25-year-old also rejected a luxury villa after that goal against Congo, instead choosing to build a school and pay for an ambulance service in his region of birth.
He even donated £210,000 instantly to the Egyptian government to help prop up the national currency at one point last year.
We’re going to stick our neck on the line and say Salah is probably the only footballer in history to keep his country’s economy afloat.
It’s a real rarity that a country’s ‘most famous person’ is also universally loved by all its people.
Salah unifies a nation, extinguishes people’s worries and plays the game with a smile on his face.
What more could you ask for?