The Making of Liverpool's Egyptian Superstar Mo Salah
The below is an updated version (April 2018) of an article first published in December 2017.
To watch him now, you would never imagine that Mo Salah used to struggle with his finishing.
He has scored a staggering 41 goals from 46 appearances since a £36.9 million move from AS Roma last summer, injecting new verve and style to Liverpool's attack. It all culminated with him being named PFA Player of the Year in his debut Premier League season.
But life was not always such a breeze for the man who has become known as "The King of Egypt" around Merseyside.
To understand how he ended up as one of the Premier League's most feared attackers is to learn how he used to cry after games in which he had missed good chances, how he would travel three hours to get to training sessions and how he used the belief of top coaches in Egypt and across Europe to help guide his journey.
Salah's success story is one of determination and commitment, and one that is best told by the men who helped him along the way.
He Used to Play Left-Back
"When I coached the under-16 team at Arab Contractors, I had five left full-backs and Salah was one of them," explained Said El-Shishini.
Arab Contractors—also known as El Mokawloon FC—are the club where Salah learned his trade and head coach El-Shishini spent two years aiding his development there.
"In one game in the under-16 Cairo League we were playing away against ENPPI, which has a very strong youth setup. We won 4-0 and on that day Salah started at left-back and wasted no less than five one-on-one chances to score.
"What I saw was not the chances he missed, but his ability to dribble from the left-back position until he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. All the running took something away from him, so he wasted the chances.
"But after this game, I saw Salah crying because of the chances he missed—he was weeping! On that day, I gave the player who scored three goals 50 Egyptian pounds and also gave Salah 25 pounds."
It was to prove a turning point in Salah's career, as his talent appeared wasted so far back on the pitch.
"From that day onwards I decided to play Salah as a right-winger," El-Shishini says. "I told him he would be the team's top goalscorer in both leagues, the U16 Cairo League and the U17 Nationwide League. I coached both teams and played Salah in both the leagues.
"By the end of the season he had scored 35 goals combined. Since then, he has never stopped scoring."
From Humble Beginnings
Salah grew up in Nagrig, a small village in Egypt's Gharbia province, and has remained true to his roots.
"In Egypt when a player achieves quick fame after coming from humble beginnings they change," said El-Shishini. "But for me, Salah as a person never changed.
"Salah came in every day from his village, Nagrig, to the club. It was a three-hour trip, and he surely must have taken more than one mode of transportation to make it to us. I sometimes made him stay at the club's humble lounge."
Salah still makes trips back to his home and recently showed his gratitude to the people there with a kind gesture.
After scoring the goal that booked Egypt a place at the World Cup, a rich businessman offered Salah a luxury villa as a token of his appreciation.
Salah was not interested. Instead, he asked for a donation to be made to his home village.
El-Shishini added: "He never forgot Nagrig, and he always goes there when he comes to Egypt and treats all people with modesty. He never forgets his roots, and this is a notable thing because, normally, footballers do."
Learning from the Best
Diaa El Sayed was head coach of the under-20 Egypt team in 2011 and dubbed the "Godfather" of the generation that led them forward. Along with Salah, Mohamed Elneny, Ahmed Hegazi and Omar Gaber were part of his setup.
They showed their potential by taking third place in the CAN (African Youth Championship) and made it to the under-20 World Cup in Colombia.
El Sayed said: "Salah was always ambitious. He always wanted to learn and improve, and also he was humble, respectful to his team-mates and coaches and more importantly he was committed to football, both on and off the field."
"That's why his career is always on the rise," El Sayed says. "I once told him to try to take everything you can from every coach you work with, and he worked with the likes of Murat Yakin, Jose Mourinho, Vincenzo Montella and Luciano Spalleti before joining Jurgen Klopp. He improved a lot because of working with those coaches."
Striving for Perfection
Salah deserves the accolades now coming his way—he was crowned BBC African Footballer of the Year for 2017—and will hope to take his club recognition onto the international stage when he heads to Russia for the World Cup.
He already has plenty of Egypt memories to drive him on, and it was six years ago that El Sayed remembered a key period in his progression.
"At the African Youth Championship in 2011, we were playing against South Africa and Salah missed more than 10 chances to score," he explained. "He cried a lot after the game, even though we made it to the semi-finals.
"After the game, I took him to the training field while it was raining to shoot on an empty net. His team-mates were cheering him from the outside just to make him happy.
"Every follower of Salah's career knows he improved his finishing a lot. He used to put himself in goalscoring positions by running through defenders and choosing the right places but missed easy chances. He challenged himself to change that—and he did."
Salah has spent a lifetime pushing his boundaries, aching for success to fulfil his potential.
Now his dreams are coming true—and will no doubt inspire Egypt's next generation.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.