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Mohamed Salah: Rise to Stardom
KingFut’s Mohamed Tharwat takes you on a journey, following Salah’s rise to stardom.
Several years back, a 14-year-old boy would awaken almost daily to a 4-hour journey to and from training, pursuing his dream to become a professional footballer. That kid could have never imagined that he would so quickly become Egypt’s number 1 player. The now 22-year-old has undoubtedly surpassed everyone’s expectations, even his own.
No one would have expected 2 or 3 years ago, that Mohamed Salah, then a player for relegation battlers Arab Contractors, would be voted Serie A’s best transfer in the 2014 winter transfer window. The tricky winger has gone a long way on the road from his humble beginnings to his rise to stardom.
Salah began playing for Arab Contractors at the tender age of 12, playing in the Tanta-based youth team back then, before moving to the youth team in Cairo later on. By the time he was fourteen, he needed to take public transportation from his home town in Al Gharbeya to the team’s training grounds in Cairo – a trip that took around 4 hours. At only 14, he began the hard work, pursuing a dream many of likewise age have, but seldom have the willpower to pursue.
By the 2010-2011 season, Salah had started to regularly feature for Arab Contractors, making a total of 20 appearances, in which he scored 4 goals. His performances were enough to secure him a spot in Diaa El-Sayed’s U-20 team which managed to pick up the bronze medal in the U-20 Africa Cup Of Nations, and hence secure a spot in 2011 U-20 World Cup.
In 2011, the pacey winger was not thought of as Egypt’s hottest property, not by a mile. It wasn’t until a year later, in the 2012 London Olympics, when Salah truly shone and looked a class above the rest; Abou-Treika supplying silky passes behind defenses for him to score provided a glimpse into the national team’s future.
Back then, Salah seemed destined for the cycle almost all talented Egyptian youngsters go through: a few seasons of good performances before moving to one of either Al Ahly or Zamalek where he could become a star or settle for a bench warming position. However, all that was due to change, in the most unimaginable way possible…
On the first of February 2012 an unfathomably appalling event occurred, one that would shape the fate of Egyptian football for years to come. Over 74 fans went to watch a football game in Port Said’s stadium that day, but, little did they know, they would not return home that night; they lost their lives in what is regarded the most disastrous event in the history of Egyptian sports.
Following the Port Said Tragedy, the Egyptian Football Association decided to bring the league to a halt, and subsequently cancelled it for the remainder of the season. It would take the Egyptian Premier League until the 26th of December 2013 to kick off again. Coupled with the cancellation of the 2011-2012 season this series of unfortunate events provided the perfect stimulus for youngsters to make moves abroad.
Basel, having followed Salah for a while, requested a friendly with Egypt’s U-23 team. Salah was restricted to the bench in the first half, but didn’t need more than one half to make a lasting impression on the Swiss, scoring twice in a 4-3 win. Impressed by his play, they offered Salah an opportunity to stay and train with the Basel team. Evenetually he would sign a 4-year contract starting on the 15th of June 2012.
Having drawn Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League’s quarter-finals, Salah managed to score a goal that sent his side into a penalty shootout, which they won 4-1. helping them reach their first European competition semi-final. FC Basel unluckily drew Chelsea in the semis, which was arguably the biggest team Salah had met at that point of his career.
In the first leg, at St. Jacob’s Park, an experienced Ashley Cole got the better of the Egyptian on most occasions and Salah was rendered almost useless, unable to help his side. Back then, Salah looked restricted more by his fear of the opposition than anything else, but that soon would change…
In the return leg, the tides would turn: a 21-year-old Salah received the ball just outside the penalty area early in the game, and when Ashley Cole turned to defend him, he nutmegged him, leaving him trailing behind. That ball meant way more than just a nutmeg; Salah had imposed himself on the game. He went on to score Basel’s only goal in a 3-1 loss after tricking Gary Cahill into giving him too much space.
Six months later, on a cold night in St. Jacob’s Park, FC Basel’s Fabian Schar was looking up field where he saw Mohamed Salah on the left flank with enough space to receive a long pass. The Switzerland international set Salah up magnificently as Salah went on a 40-yard sprint before slotting home the winner against Chelsea. FC Basel had done it; two wins against a Chelsea side known for it’s brilliance in defense; the crowd went into a frenzy, the underdogs weren’t as easy a meal as the Blues had thought.
Despite winning twice against Chelsea, the Swiss champions weren’t able to qualify for the Champions League’s round of 16, which definitely was a factor in Salah’s decision to leave in the winter transfer window. Liverpool seemed to be the leader’s in the race for the Egypt international’s signature, and were at several points thought to be almost closing the deal on him. Nevertheless, Chelsea swooped in with a larger bid and closed the deal in a couple of days.
Being the first Egyptian international to sign for one of the EPL’s “top four”, Salah was put under immense pressure by the media from within Egypt. Coupled with the pressures of preforming for a club at Chelsea’s level after a transfer, it seemed like too much for him to bear. Coming on in the final minutes for his debut versus Newcastle, the winger was almost shaking. The jump from playing at St. Jacob’s Park to featuring in front of over 40,000 fans at the Bridge looked like it was beyond his mental ability to cope.
Nonetheless, the Egyptian was able to deliver when handed his first start; 32 minutes into the game Salah sent the ball into the back of the net from a Matic cutback, before winning the penalty that resulted in the second goal and setting up Willian for the third. Featuring regularly for the rest of the season, things looked like they were heading in the right direction for him after all.
The next season was definitely a step backwards for him; Salah was restricted to cameo appearances and cup starts. The manager’s lack of faith was seemingly vindicated by Salah’s shaky performances and apparent willingness to try and do too much to try and convince Mourinho to give him more chances. Whenever Salah went on the field, it was as obvious as the sun at noon that he was trying too hard which wasn’t the best formula for success.
A lot of people voiced their concerns about Salah’s amount of playing time, advising him to seek playing time elsewhere. They were definitely right, but his time at Chelsea wasn’t an absolute waste; Salah’s control over the ball, the way he dribbles and his first touch all considerably improved in his time at Stamford Bridge. However, nothing can be a substitute for playing time, and sitting on the bench was getting him nowhere. Salah needed time on the pitch, desperately.
Eventually, the Egyptian left seeking new beginnings. His desire to secure playing time sent him to the other side of the continent, moving to a land where another artist grew up and made a name for himself. He moved to Florence, the city where Leonardo Da Vinci grew up and thrived.
The pacey winger hit the ground running; Florence, quite quickly, became a home to Salah as it was to Da Vinci, a place where both were able to prosper and hone their skills. Coming on as a sub in Fiorentina’s 3-2 win over Atalanta, Salah looked promising and seemed to have little trouble integrating with the current squad on his debut.
The Egyptian was handed his full debut just a few days later, starting in La Viola’s 3-1 win over Sassoulo, a game in which Salah was able to not only score the opener, but also set up teammate Khouma Babacar for the second of the night. Thrilled by this start, Fiorentina fans set about singing “We came all this way to watch Salah score!” La Viola’s new signing stole the club’s faithfuls hearts faster than he could run.
— KingFut.com (@King_Fut) February 26, 2015
The 22-year-old has never looked back since joining the Florence-based club, seemingly forgetting his days at Chelsea where he was restrained to watching games from the bench or even the stands. He managed six goals and an assist for his new team in his first seven games – averaging one goal every 72 minutes across all competitions and one every 60 in the Serie A.
At only 22, the sky is the limit for Mohamed Salah. The winger has come a long way in the past 4 years, but his rise to stardom is far from over. Now a vital part of Fiorentina’s squad, he has the perfect environment to improve his game as he works to establish himself as one of Europe’s best wingers.