The ‘Mo’ Salah effect: When a football player is much more than that

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Salah was born in a middle class family on the 15th of June 1992 in Nagrig, Egypt, a town 130km away from El Cairo. Practitioner of the Muslim religion and pushed by his parents to dedicate full time to this and his studies, he had to find his way out to do what he loved: Football, and boy did he succeed… He was passionate for the sport since very young and had to make a huge effort to obtain his father’s support. He had to take 5 buses to train (4 hours and a half each day, 5 days a week, during 3 or 4 years) and just had time to eat and sleep, but even though very exhaustive, this didn’t stop him from reaching his dream.[1]

The ‘Pharaoh’ didn’t have an easy start on the football world as at the age of 15 he was rejected by Zamalek, the club which he supports. “I thought I wasn’t good enough, I felt insecure. I cried for weeks” he revealed in an interview (he proved not to be spiteful as he invited the team’s president ten years later for a game against Chelsea on Anfield). Despite the setback Salah continued to purchase his dream; he played for Arab Contractors in his home country and due to a violent incident in a football stadium (in which 74 spectators died forcing the Egyptian league to be suspended indefinitely) in 2012 the Egypt national U23 squad went on tour: the friendly game played against Basel was a starting point for the 19 years old Salah’s fantastic career, he scored twice in 45 minutes and the Swiss team bought the potential football star. His outstanding performances in Basel attracted Mourinho’s attention and was bought by Chelsea, but without much opportunities Salah went to Fiorentina and Roma ceded (the Italian capital city team bought him at the end of the season and he played one more for the ‘giallorosso’). On June 2017 Liverpool acquired the Egyptian’s service’s and the rest is known; he is now considered as one of the best football player’s in the world, and is fighting for the Golden Boot with Lionel Messi.

His achievements in football established his name in the world, but he is much more than just a football player; what he does outside the pitch shouldn’t be overshadowed by his skills inside it. The qualification to the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 (after 28 years) in which he guided the national team and the fact that he succeeded after being rejected by the team he dreamed of playing for transformed Salah into the inspiration source of many Egyptian kids, into the hope of a nation hit by years of riots and a deep economic crisis, the hope that a tough situation can be overcome. ‘Mo’ said on a recent interview “we are a huge country, Egypt has many children and everyone can do something, I want to change things, I want everyone to have a dream and to feel capable of doing the things they like, so I am trying to change that and I am happy to see this, I see people can dream, they are starting to believe in themselves, and I’m really happy about that”.[2]

The ‘Pharaoh’ is the cover of every Egyptian newspaper (Al-Watan newspaper dedicated nice of its 16 pages of the New Year’s edition to Salah, naming him as the “hope of 2018” on their headline over his picture), and forced the Egyptian authorities to suspend a prohibition (on holding meetings and manifestations without authorization) with his WC Qualifying goal as people got out to the streets to celebrate, people reunite on bar’s or restaurant’s to watch his games with Liverpool; they are happy to be football fans again (six years after the revolt linked to political issues which locked football fans inside their houses due to the 74 deaths in a stadium, which ironically was the starting point of Salah’s career).[3]

The ‘Egyptian Messi’ is considered a role model in his home country due to his commitment and discipline values to such an extent of receiving two million votes in the last presidential elections; according to ‘The Economist’ there were crossed out ballots with the names of the two candidates (Abdel- Fattah Al-Sisi -finally reelected- and Mustafa Moussa) and the name of Salah written by hand.

But this is just his political influence, Salah is much more interested in his social influence and therefore collaborates with different social works such as a foundation for kids with terminal diseases, campaigns for women equality, donations (such as the one he made for Tahya Masr, an organization trying to revive the country’s economy), and charity works (such as the ones made in his home town Nagrig to treat water) between other things. A proof of the effect he had in his home country was the campaign ‘Say no to drugs’ in which he appeared on a video encouraging young Egyptians to practice sports and to stay away from any contact with drugs. According to Ghada Waly, Social Solidarity Minister from Egypt, since Salah’s appearance on the video the number of phone calls from people with drug problems asking for help or information increased on a 400%; besides that, the video has been seen more than 8 million times on the three days since released.[4]

We must not ignore the influence of Liverpool’s striker in England, a country in which the homophobic and racist incidents in football are increasing (according to the surveillance agency Kick it Out ).[5] England has had several incidents of racism, in particular with Muslim’s, and their football clearly isn’t exempt, but Salah is changing things by integrating his religion to the English society. His skills, cheerfulness and the values showed inside of the pitch are creating a particular effect on English fans that now sing “If he is good enough for you he is good enough for me, if he scores another few then I will be a Muslim too, if he is good enough for you he is good enough for me, he is sitting in the mosque that’s where I wanna be” in Anfield [6]; kids are celebrating their goals as the Egyptian attacker and are completely fanatized with him (not just Liverpool fans).[7] Salah is respected on every stadium, and so are being to do so his Muslim beliefs.

It would be fantastic to have more players as Mohamed Salah; players who are an inspiration source, that try to be an example for every kid, that try to make them understand they need to care for the community and not just for themselves, that promote the correct values, that combat for integration and that are admired for their effort and social work besides their football skills. The ‘Salah phenomenon’ managed to generate an influence in the Egyptian government that improved soccer schools, showed interest in sports, and reactivated tourism between other social impacts, but this shouldn’t be something a footballer has to be teaching to the representatives of his country, it should be the other way around.

Salah is simple, humble, always smiling, has time for everyone, is grateful with what he has, doesn’t forget his origins, awards his success to his effort, has no resentment, and as the interviewer Dominic King said, he wants everybody to have the opportunity of being better (as showed when he dismissed a delation against the man who stole in his house, and reinserted him back into the society by giving him money and a job – this happened before of being a world class football star)[8]

Despite being on the top of his career, being recognized by everyone as one of the best on what he loves (Egypt national team’s coach Héctor Cúper said he is the most popular person in the country and that everybody identifies with him; he even compared the situation with what Argentina once lived with Diego Maradona), and with his economic future solved, Salah isn’t full; he wants the social welfare and to generate a positive impact on the society, in other words he is using his fame and possibilities to make the world a better place, and that’s something he should be very proud of. As a social science’s investigator called Ali Hassan said, the ‘Salah phenomenon’ is a proof that the Egyptians “can be creative and successful if they are given the chance on the right environment and context”. This message applies for everyone, not just Egyptians, and everyone should make their best effort, as Salah did, to get their best out of them.

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