A beacon of hope in Egypt and Merseyside, Mo Salah is much more than one of the best footballers in the world right now.
It’s as if the almighty got Frank Darabont to write the script for Mohamed Salah that night. A nation’s dream that was put on the back burner for more than a quarter of a century was now waiting for sweet slumber to arrive so it could paint itself for the Pharaohs.
On 9 October 2017, with Egypt leading 1-0, four minutes from the end of normal time, Congo scored a goal with which they criminally clawed Egypt back from the transit gates to Russia. In the stands, the fans covered their faces in horror. On the ground, Mo Salah collapsed.
Looking back now, he just really had to, hadn’t he? The cliche of the phoenix rising from the ashes could use the imagery to embellish itself for the masses.
60 seconds to the final whistle, dreamland rolled up at the bloody gates of Egypt once again. And all they needed was for Mo Salah to present himself and kick it down with his left foot.
One neat stroke of the football, one sweet slap to the universal timepiece, and the world stood still.
The net welcomed the ball into its embrace; the fans fell to their knees, stretched their arms out wide and went into a transport of delight.
Egypt had reached the promised land and Mohamed had arrived.
The pre-historic subcurrent that fuels the narrative of the Mohamed Salah story is undeniably captivating. After serving the eternal city of Rome that houses the Vatican, he travelled across the Mediterranean and shored up at Merseyside.
It’s almost like he sought out a master made to order by the inch in Jurgen Klopp, and loaned out his heart to the locals. Liverpool was a team battling to make an identity, a population derided for resorting to the history books for banter at the pub, and, most importantly, a place in desperate need of a saviour.
When Salah returned to England, part of London laughed at the idea of adding afterburners to a jalopy. Even the vigilant pimps of the transfer market were focused on the extravaganza; the big names, the big money, the tall billings. So much so that the diminutive Egyptian flitted past their gaze like a cyclist who raised the curtain on a circus featuring lions.
Except now, he roars louder than anybody who has their eyes on the throne of the jungle. The hunters and gatherers are backpedaling, and the prime predator is at large. Worse yet, he is browbeating to upset a trend that blanketed a decade – he is walking shoulder to shoulder with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and just how bloody dare he…
Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, two top players in their own right, were schlepping the Scousers past the realms of mediocrity and they were adequately supported by the craft and shrewdness of a Brazilian whose heart had set sail for Catalonia quite a while ago. And when Fenway finally caved in and let go of the fulcrum, the Kop must have expected the machine to break down.
But Salah wore the lasso around his hip and tied the other end to Klopp’s heavy metal rig, and has been going hell for leather ever since. And nobody seems to be able to stop him.
The apparent genius of Pep was exposed not once, not twice, but thrice. Make no mistake, we’re talking about a team that is widely touted to be playing some of the most swashbuckling football the Premier League has ever seen.
Salah’s reply to that was three goals, measured and tailored like a three-piece suit burnished for the funeral of City’s perceived infallibility. Three shots – one to the head and two to the chest, hitman-like, that even inspired the Sky Blues’ cross-city rivals Manchester United to pull off the unthinkable at the Etihad.
He was there in the port city of Alexandria for Egypt. He was there at Merseyside. And now, he could be in Kiev. He has one foot on the mountain; Mohamed might just scale it and stare down at us from the summit, and history might just repeat itself.
A one-season wonder, really? The audacity to attribute 43 goals to beginner’s luck ought to be Irish-whipped into a dungeon from the medieval ages.
About four days before Liverpool thrashed City in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, Liverpool got past Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park by the skin of their teeth after conceding first in the 13th minute of the game.
Salah had one of his quieter outings and was struggling to create anything of note down that right flank, the side that he had so steadfastly brought under his rule.
Roy Hodgson rightly called it ‘groundhog day’ for his side as they once again let the points slip through their fingers in the final 10 minutes of the match. That’s what it looked like to them, but the truth is that Salah decided to drop in and snatch it from their hands in the 84th minute.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain swapped positions with the Egyptian and pumped a long ball into the box from the right flank which went beyond the far post. Andy Robertson sent it back into the danger area which Firmino tried to reach in vain, only for it to fall to Salah.
He trapped the ball like a sack of sand and sent a resilient Sakho dropping like the ground was shaking, before slotting it home to seal the win for the Reds. It was sheer quality, that.
Or alternatively, you could watch the Watford massacre at Anfield.
To pop up in the right place at the right time with your gats well oiled and your head playing the calming notes of Beethoven… That ain’t down to luck, is it?
And when you repeat the trope week in and week out, either you’re the most fortuitous man on the planet or you’re just that damn good.
Faber est suae quisque fortunae. Every man is the artisan of his own fortune.
Champions who linger in our hearts have always pulled that extra rabbit out of their hats, haven’t they? That one auxiliary trick that leaves us reaching for the golden buzzer.
This time, it was his former club AS Roma that was at the receiving end of Salah’s unflinching sense of purpose and doggedness. He scored two peaches and then set up two more and refused to rub it in, because that behavior does not behoove the man who has become a deity that unites a deeply disturbed nation’s populace.
If you ask me, a true champion is defined by three things: What is he about? How does he do it? What sets him apart?
The answers for the first two have been elaborately offered in an almost astronomical number of servings. As for the third, just grab the next Egyptian you meet and ask him about Mohamed Salah. And then patiently listen to them as he goes on a sermon backed by lavish helpings of a surfeit of emotions.
That’s what sets Salah apart in a way only a select few have been. He unites a nation, and the love he gets in return is ridiculously overwhelming.
From making all online polls a no-competition to being the runner-up in a presidential race that he wasn’t even in the running for, Salah is perhaps the greatest funk to have swept an entire country in the recent past.
In a nation tarnished by political disrepute and insurgency, Salah offers 90 minutes of bliss every week, at times twice. And that permeates a sense of wellness that’s keeping the smiles on the faces of the Egyptians from fading. How incredibly beautiful is that?
Just when you thought you couldn’t do nicer than Juan Mata, Salah decided to have dinner with the burglar who broke into his house – and handed him money so that he doesn’t have to prolong his delinquent streak. O, Mohamed!
He returns to Egypt to feed the poor during Ramadan. When he was offered a luxurious villa for sending Egypt to the World Cup, he passed on it and instead chose to build a school and amp up the ambulance services in his hometown.
He even furnished money to his government in excess of £200,000 pounds to keep his country’s economy from crashing. Egyptian king alright.
In the years to come, Salah could very well become Chelsea’s worst regret, Liverpool’s greatest bargain, and Egypt’s enviable gift.
In the years to come, he might become the best left-footer in the world. He could become the best footballer in the world. And he’ll get there due to a ruthless mixture of grit, will and some unreal balance of mind.
Liverpool might not need to resort to quoting tall tales of antiquity anymore by the end of this season. Hope will keep the Egyptians rising in the morning to sweet sunshine.
And in the skies, among the clouds, in the stadium of life, a giant tifo of Salah will hang for the world to look up to and smile.
Run amok in the streets and scream the words…
Mohamed has arrived.
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