Even when he had his credentials questioned by a Cairo club chairman and what seemed a dream move to the Egyptian capital falling through almost seven years ago, promising youngster Mohamed Salah refrained from criticizing those who doubted him.
Two years after Zamalek snubbed him in 2011, he seemed more focused on discussing his future aspirations rather than recalling any bitter memories, implying that he had no problems with Mamdouh Abbas, a wealthy businessman who famously said Salah was not yet up to the standards of the Cairo giants.
“Just like everyone else, my dream was to either join Ahly or Zamalek. I was on the brink of moving to Zamalek but people there said I needed more time (to make this move). God was more generous and at the time Basel approached me,” Salah said in a famous 2013 television interview shortly after joining the Swiss giants for his first foray into Europe.
Zamalek’s failed deal proved a blessing in disguise and the ambitious lad demonstrated a never-say-die attitude more than once to reach unprecedented heights for any Egyptian footballer.
On Sunday, he was named the English Premier League’s best player by the Professional Footballers’ Association, clinching the prestigious award ahead of the likes of Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Tottenham Hotspur’s prolific striker Harry Kane.
Why has Salah been so special?
His footballing qualities can never be questioned: He is a speedy winger who can also operate as a false nine, boasting nifty footwork and goal-scoring prowess polished by Liverpool’s shrewd tactician Juergen Klopp, who brought the best out of a man who had so much to learn back in the Premier League following his arrival from AS Roma last summer.
But he is not the first Egyptian to have footballing attributes of the highest quality. Both Mido and Amr Zaki, two ex-Premier League strikers, were deadly finishers with strong physiques but neither could go as far as Salah.
‘Best Egyptian player in history’
Mido tormented opposing defenders while at Tottenham Hotspur in the mid-2000s while Zaki was at one point one of the Premier League’s top scorers with unfancied Wigan Athletic in late 2008.
Both had their English adventures disrupted by off-field disciplinary problems, with then Wigan coach Steve Bruce famously branding Zaki the most unprofessional player he has ever worked with.
Salah could have also been a victim of his own deeds had he opted to vent his anger at the bit-part role he played at Chelsea in 2014 but his typical modest and professional approach made sure he kept a cool head, picked himself up and worked his way back into the spotlight.
Spells with Fiorentina and AS Roma in the Italian Serie A helped him rediscover his form and he soon made a move back to the Premier League, this time with Liverpool where he defied expectations with a series of dazzling displays that had The Kop, the Anfield’s famous stand, buzzing with excitement every time he touched the ball. It was the calm after a storm.
“Mohamed Salah’s mentality, or personality, is better than mine. His reaction at being sidelined by Chelsea was very good,” Mido, now a television pundit, said in an interview with Egyptian sports channel DMC.
“When I was young, I listened to no one although I had very good advisers and this resulted in me taking many wrong decisions. Salah is very calm and the way he has developed as a player and person at Liverpool is a miracle.
“In my opinion, Salah is the best player in Egypt’s history; not for his technique but for his ability to excel at the top level for one, two and three years,” added Mido, who once said Salah needed to be more charismatic.
The Egyptian King
Salah is reaping the rewards of his patience and persistence. He is now a Merseyside hero whose name rings out at every home game for Liverpool.
A famous song is dedicated to the “Egyptian King” by the Reds’ faifhtful and is chanted by everyone, from lifelong supporters to kids fond of the 25-year-old, who treats praise with typical humility.
“Every game they come I hear them, because of the special song for me. I love them because I play here in Anfield and … I feel the love in the city, in the club, in training,” Salah said in an interview with CNN.
Salah is breaking records at will. He is the first one to be named the Premier League’s player of the month three times in one season and became Africa’s most prolific forward in a single season after reaching the 30-goal mark in the league, surpassing the 29 goals Ivorian hitman Didier Drogba scored in 2009-10.
He has 41 goals to his name in all competitions, just six short of the record tally of Liverpool icon Ian Rush, which he set in the 1983-84 season.
Sky is the limit for Salah, but he keeps insisting that helping Liverpool win trophies matters more than individual glory.
"To win the Champions League is huge for everyone. I don't care about the rest,” he told Sky Sports before Liverpool face AS Roma, his former club where he is also idolised, in a two-legged semi final.