The Best FIFA Football Awards
How Salah captured hearts around the world
27 Aug 2018
- Mohamed Salah has captured imaginations in 2018
- The Egyptian King fired nation back to the World Cup after 28 years
- Liverpool forward scored 50 for club and country
Had it not been a FIFA World Cup™ year, the global euphoria around the excellence of Egyptian hero Mohamed Salah could easily have defined the game in 2018.
With his quick feet dazzling defences and delighting onlookers, Salah has inspired admiration from Cairo to California. Unsurprisingly, though, a major concentration of that appreciation can be found in Anfield, Liverpool. With the season only just back under way, he's wasted little time in putting smiles back on supporters' faces.
Scoring 50 goals for club and country, as he thrillingly took his nation to their first World Cup for 28 years and led Liverpool towards the UEFA Champions League final, ensured that he found his name on The Best FIFA Men’s Player shortlist. But he has also found his way into the hearts of fans around the world, through a number of means.
While Roma supporters were well aware of the talent Salah had in his locker, once he landed in the north-west of England, he seemed to reach a whole new level. Meshing perfectly into an attacking triumvirate with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, it took just 57 minutes of his debut for Salah to open his account against Watford – a side he’d later net four more against.
With the ball glued to his toes as he went on to break the Premier League scoring record, tentative, caveated comparisons to Lionel Messi flowed. While the ‘Egyptian King’ has much to do to match the exemplary consistency of the Argentinian phenomenon, stylistically it’s hard to argue with equating the two.
“Salah, I love him. He is an incredible player with tremendous quality,” explained Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo. “He looks like Messi. I recently read him saying that I had been his inspiration and I was excited.”
As they face a player brimming with invention, hungry for the ball and seemingly impossible to stop when his short strides reach full flow, the fear in the eyes of retreating defenders is certainly reminiscent of La Liga back lines when La Pulga flies forward. Like the Barcelona star, Salah's tally of 15 assists in Europe and the league show he’s very much a part of the collective, too.
Part of Salah’s appeal is undoubtedly his humble demeanour and down-to-earth nature. Despite being named African Player of the Year, the PFA Player’s Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Year, he has not lost his common touch.
From seeing him stepping out for a quintessential English dinner of fish and chips to meeting fans with a broad smile across his face, his quiet, approachable charm amid the headlines has struck a chord. His community connections stretch back to Egypt, too, with a school among the projects he is funding in Nagrig, his village north of Cairo.
“Salah is a refined person who, despite his popularity, has never forgotten about his town,” the Mayor of Nagrig Maher Shatiyah said.
Even when his address in Egypt was leaked online and hundreds of fans gathered outside his house after he returned from Russia 2018, the forward remained a man of the people, posing for photos and signing autographs.
“Mohamed Salah is really important because he is a symbol … like Tutankhamun, like the pyramids.” While this sounds like an exaggeration, the fact his boots ended up in the British Museum suggests otherwise!
Salah has become a modern icon of Egyptian culture, as Mohamed Farag Amer, head of Egypt’s parliamentary youth and sports committee, underlined, but he has also become an idol for many of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, too.
“Mohamed Salah is uniting communities,” explained BBC World Service journalist Ribaya Limbada. “He will pray on the pitch, he will sport his beard with pride and he will play some of the best football you have seen this year. Do you have any idea how powerful that is to children like mine?”
Meanwhile, in the Anfield stands, chants lovingly embracing Salah’s faith have echoed throughout the last year, serenading the latest star to be taken into the hearts of the Kop.
While he’s already won legions of fans around the world, will the Egyptian King be crowned The Best on 24 September?