How teenage tears turned Liverpool's humble hero Salah into a goalscoring superstar

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Goal reveals how the Egyptian's former youth team coach at Al-Mokawloon changed the 25-year-old's position - and thus the entire course of his career

Mohamed Salah will be Liverpool's principal attacking threat in Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Should he fire the Reds to victory, after a sensational debut season at Anfield featuring a record-breaking 32 Premier League goals, the Egyptian sensation would be the early favourite to win this year's Balon d'Or.

Certainly, nobody would be at all surprised if Salah shoots down Real on the club game's grandest stage. Nothing seems to faze him.

However, if he had not burst into tears as a 16-year-old, he might never have become one of the world's most feared forwards.

Salah joined Al-Mokawloon (known in Europe as 'Arab Contractors') at the age 11 and "his talent spoke for itself," according to Hamdi Nooh, the head of the club’s academy.

He was already well known for his prowess at his home in Negreeg, north of Cairo in the Gharbia governate.

"Everyone in the village was expecting a great future for him as he showed real talent when he was very young," Salah's cousin, Hamed Ghaly, told Goal. "The village became famous because of him.

"He started from zero and his family helped him a lot. He always dreamed of playing in Europe, even before Al-Mokawloon.

"He followed the English Premier League but his favourite players were Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo." 

There was a lot of tough competition to get into the junior teams at Al-Mokawloon and, at first, Salah played as a left-back or wing-back, often in the 3-5-2 formation with which the Egypt national team enjoyed success.

However, even then, at that age and while essentially playing as a defender, he had developed a thirst for goals, as former Al-Mokawloon Under-16s and Under-17s coach Said Al Shesheni learned after one particular game.

"We had a very tough away match against strong opponents, ENPPI, and we had a fantastic result, winning 4-0," he recalled. "We were all celebrating except Mohamed, who was crying because he had not scored a goal in this historic victory.

"That made me realise the depth of his passion for scoring goals. He was struggling to cover the long distance between his position, left-back, and the opponents' goal. 

Mohamed Salah PS

"I think this moment was the turning point of Mohamed Salah's career because I sat with him after the match and told him that I was going to change his position to use his outstanding speed and his passion for scoring.

"It was a great moment because, after moving forward, he managed to score 35 goals in one season with the Under-16 and Under-17 teams."

Salah was then added to the senior squad, where he was coached by Mohamed Abdelaziz, known as "Zizo," the former Under-14s coach who was hugely impressed by the youngster's dedication to the game and willingness to learn.

"Salah was a very disciplined player, always on time for training," Zizo told Goal. "Coach Mohamed Radwan and I started separate additional training for him to get the very best from his speed.

"In the beginning Mohamed kept the ball for too long and we tried, successfully, to change that.

"After a very successful season he became one of the important players in the team despite his young age.

"I sat with him and the team captain, Mohamed Al Aqabawi, and told him it was time for him to be the team's hero. I was not worried that he might get more arrogant because I know his humble personality.

"In the same meeting, I advised him not to limit his ambition to just joining the local big clubs like Zamalek or Al Ahly, but to really think about playing in Europe — and he did it."

Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

Indeed, after making a name for himself at Basel, Salah struggled under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, but then re-established his reputation as one of the world's most exciting wingers by taking Serie A by storm, first with Fiorentina, and then Roma.

At Liverpool, though, he has gone to another level, thanks mainly to the fact that he is now replicating the remarkable goalscoring rate he had during his teenage years.

Despite all of the individual accolades and awards he has received this season, though, Salah still hasn't changed. According to his cousin, he remains a hero in Negreeg as much for his humility as his tremendous talent. 

"Everyone loves him here," Ghaly enthused. "He's loyal to his family and his hometown residents. He always keeps in contact with them and has never got arrogant with anyone. 

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"He remains as polite as always. He thinks step by step, and every time he reaches a new level, he knows that there's more to do. His ambition has no limits."

A Champions League final triumph on Saturday might just be the start of something truly special for the humble hero who owes much to Al Shesheni for changing his position – and, consequently, the entire course of his career.

Note: This feature was originally published in 2015

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