Mohamed Salah’s path to global superstardom has been a long and arduous one, with the Liverpool forward having started out in humble surroundings at El Mokawloon Club.
It is that grounding which has made him the player he is today, with the 26-year-old having never lost sight of his roots while being showered by praise and prestigious awards in the professional ranks – including the Goal Arab Player of the Year prize for 2018.
He has had to work hard – harder than most – to get to this point, with the determination which shaped him as a youngster now allowing him to thrive as a senior sensation and role model to millions .
Those who helped to mould Salah’s undoubted potential never doubted that he would scale such heights, with every obstacle that has been put in front of the pacey frontman having been cleared with consummate ease.
Mohamed Radwan – the man who gave a teenage Salah his first taste of senior football – told Goal of the raw talent he first encountered in Egypt: “In 2008, I was the manager of El Mokawloon’s first team and I decided to watch their U16 team match versus Al Ahly. My assistants had wondered why I may be interested in players under the age of 16!
“In that match, Salah was awesome and he really caught my attention. I immediately decided to bring him to the first team. And because he was just 15 years old, his body wasn’t fully formed so we worked on a special diet and training program for him.
“At the end of 2008, Mo Salah had played his first match in the Egyptian League and it was against Enppi SC. He was 15 years and 10 months old exactly, so he is considered the youngest player to ever play at the Egyptian League.
“Enppi were playing really well at that time and our team were not enjoying their best days. Salah was warming up, so I told him my decision that he’s going to play and I asked him: ‘Are you afraid?’ He responded with confidence: ‘No Sir’.
“Mo Salah, from the first glance, had the speed and the talent, the fateful decision was to call on a young player and give him the chance!”
Life at El Mokawloon was not always that rosy for Salah, though, as he was pushed hard – to the point of tears at times – by those eager to see him produce his best.
Ahmad Saad, a former team-mate, said of those early experiences: “In one match with the U16 team, Salah was playing very badly and after the first half ended our coach Hamdi Nouh insulted him so much that he cried! And in the second half, Salah scored three goals!
“In the beginning, he had to play as a left-back and a left winger sometimes. But Mo still has the same good personality, he’s always in touch with us and he’s really humble.
“Mo was the only one who dreamed of professionalism [playing outside of Egypt] while most of us preferred Al Ahly and Zamalek [the two biggest clubs in Egypt].”
Those dreams would ultimately be fulfilled at the likes of Basel, Chelsea, Fiorentina, Roma and Liverpool, with Salah reaping the rewards of the dedication he displayed to climbing the sporting ladder.
Shefif Alaa, a close friend and another former colleague at El Mokawloon, told Goal of the challenges an ambitious figure faced: “His body was thin, but it was tough! He used to spend three hours every day on public transport to reach El Mokawloon Club’s field because of the long distance. He even used to walk over a hill [about 1 km] to reach the field and join the training.
“Salah was always a starter with the youth team of El Mokawloon but one year, one coach decided that he was not suitable to play as a starter! Salah didn’t give up, he trained well and showed the coach what he had, and after that, he became the coach’s first choice.
“His goal against Zamalek youth team was the key to El Mokawloon’s first team door. The result was 1-0 for us. When you play against a big team you have to defend well but Salah, who was playing as a left-back, took the ball from our area and dribbled around all the players he faced to reach the Zamalek goal. He scored an amazing goal and led us to a win.
“When we came to the next training session we didn’t find him, he was called to the first team. We were 15 years old and he was the one who pushed us to think about playing for the first team and in the Egyptian League.”