Dismissed as being not good enough to play for Cairo giants Zamalek early in his career and deemed not up to the standards of the English Premier League while at Chelsea a few years ago, Mohamed Salah continues to defy critics with a typical unyielding approach.
The Egypt international, the stand-out player of his generation in the football-mad country, is back with a point to prove in the elite Premier League, having completed a club record move to 18-time English champions Liverpool for 42 million euros on Thursday.
He hardly had a chance to establish himself at Chelsea, whom he joined in January 2014 from Swiss side Basel but where he struggled for first-team opportunities, with Portuguese boss Jose Mourinho only giving him six starts.
“In part, that was because of the presence of Willian and Eden Hazard and in part due to Mourinho’s occasional preference for a more defensive figure on the right to balance out Hazard on the left, which led him to pick Ramires,” British sports columnist Jonathan Wilson wrote in the The Guardian.
“In that context, the question then becomes less what went wrong for Salah than why he was signed at all when Chelsea already had such established options in that area … It was not that he failed in the Premier League, it was that he never really got an opportunity.”
Salah left Chelsea in early 2015 as a flop signing and came back to Liverpool two and a half years later as one of the most exciting talents in European football.
In between, he shone in the less illustrious Italian Serie A with a series of dazzling displays, first during a brief loan spell with Fiorentina and then during a highly-successful two-year stint with AS Roma where he became one of the team’s undisputed stars.
Consistently hearing his name chanted by the Giallorossi faithful at the Olimpico Stadium, Salah struck fear into Roma’s opponents with his pace and mazy runs, dribbling abilities and a much-improved goal instinct that saw him score 34 goals and provide 24 assists in two seasons with the capital side.
His goals with Roma included long and close-range shots, chipped efforts, volleys and assured finishes in one-on-ones.
However, his most memorable strike was actually with Fiorentina in March 2015 when he ran half the length of the pitch, left three defenders trailing in his wake and fired home past Juventus keeper Stefano Sturaro in an Italian Cup game.
Such was his impact at Fiorentina that their fans could not forgive him for snubbing them to join Roma.
“I would like to thank AS Roma, the players, and the fans. With Roma, I had the best years of my career so far and I will have nothing but gratitude and great memories,” Salah said on his official Facebook page after completing his move to Liverpool.
He was given a warm reception by Liverpool’s supporters, vowing to “give 100 percent” to help the club compete for the English title that they last won in 1990.
The rise from obscurity to stardom
Born into a modest family in the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbeya in 1992, Salah’s rise to prominence came at a time when playing for Cairo’s famed clubs Ahly and Zamalek was no longer the sole gateway to European football.
That’s why when then Zamalek chairman Mamdouh Abbas suggested Salah needed to vastly improve to have a chance of joining his club in December 2011, there was little to worry about for the ambitious teenager, at the time a promising lad plying his trade at mid-table side Arab Contractors.
The likes of current Hull City wing-back Ahmed Elmohamady, Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny and Salah managed to force their way to Europe via more modest Egyptian clubs, thanks to some convincing displays with the national team and the big reliance on football agents by recruiters.
Salah started his foreign adventure by moving to Switzerland’s leading club Basel in the summer of 2012. Despite his obvious potential, there was little optimism back home that he could achieve notable success, with some of his peers cutting short their spells in several high-profile clubs in Switzerland and Portugal.
But Salah was more patient and determined to move ahead of them, displaying an admirable commitment and avoiding the kind of off-field distractions that have always haunted his predecessors, including former England-based strikers Mido and Amr Zaki.
He went on to torment opponents with his array of skills, including future club Chelsea. Once he joined the Blues, and despite being given a few chances to shine, he never looked back.
The media-shy Salah might not be the charismatic player fans usually like, but his persona is that of a mild-mannered footballer whose move to Liverpool led to an outpouring of congratulatory messages from his peers.
“Even if I see myself playing very well in one thing, I try to improve to do it better and better. I always think about the small details because I need to improve more and more,” Salah told Liverpool’s official website.
“What I can say is that I’m very excited. I will give 100 per cent and give everything for the club. I am happy to be here and I really want to win something for this club.”