Arsenal's Elneny finally in spotlight after stepping out of Mohamed Salah's shadow

Hatem Maher , Thursday 14 Jan 2016

Elneny and Salah
Ex-Basel teammates Mohamed Elneny (R) and Mohamed Salah (File photo: AFP)

Mohamed Elneny must have at some point wondered why Egypt teammate Mohamed Salah had garnered much of fan attention back home when both stepped onto the field to play any game with Swiss side Basel.

Maybe because Salah, as a winger or deep-lying forward, is more of a roving man who is pleasant to watch due to his trickery, marauding runs and goal-scoring instincts.

Elneny, a composed central midfielder, is a neat distributor of the ball but, until recently, has not shown any tendency to push forward and try his luck in a more attacking role, silently watching Salah gets all the credit in Egyptian social media frenzy.

As has been always the case, talented forwards catch the eyes quicker and Salah soon joined English Premier League side Chelsea after playing with Elneny for 1-1/2 years, with the latter finding himself in further obscurity because those who avidly followed his former teammate switched their attentions to Salah's new team.

But Elneny was rewarded for his patience and development to an all-round midfielder, sealing a dream move to Arsenal in the Premier League, where Salah is no longer present after failing to establish himself at Chelsea to join AS Roma in the Italian Serie A.

"It's true that Elneny is not creative, but his numbers despite his young age easily encourage any big team to sign him," said former Egypt striker Mido, who played for several English Premier League clubs including Tottenham Hotspur, Wigan Athletic and West Ham.

"Being linked with Arsenal is a big success for the player."

Modern midfielder

During his first two-and-a-half seasons with Basel after joining in January 2013, the 23-year-old was not bold enough but still provided the sufficient security in midfield as his side maintained their domestic domination with routine league triumphs.

It was not until this season that he came across as a modern central midfielder, making unfamiliar inroads into the opposition half to either split the defence or let fly from the edge of the area.

His six goals in all competitions so far this season included a screamer which led Basel to a 2-1 comeback victory away to Italy's Fiorentina in their opening Group I clash of the Europa League in September.

Elneny's contribution, which also saw him score against Fiorentina again in a 2-2 draw one month later, was crucial to Basel's progress to the last 32 of Europe's secondary club competition, where they will meet French side Saint Etienne in February.

"Mohamed as always, exerted huge efforts and ran a lot. If he is also a threat on goal, this is all the more gratifying," Basel coach Urs Fischer said following the draw with Fiorentina.

Elneny is a product of the youth academy of Ahly, Egypt and Africa's most successful club, but made his name with fellow Egyptian Premier League club Arab Contractors.

"The league structure is a bit different in Switzerland, as well as their way of thinking. It's more results-driven here, and the focus is all about winning the league. So, I had to adapt a little bit from my Egyptian club where it was more about how we played," Elneny, capped 42 times by Egypt, said in an interview with

"Nevertheless, I managed to change my way of thinking to become more ambitious and think about winning tournaments, which of course is really important.

"I managed to overcome the fear of playing in the Champions League against great clubs like Real Madrid, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea. It's a dream to even watch those teams in a stadium, let alone compete against them."

Arsenal's Facebook page is now flooded with Egyptian comments, mostly sarcastic, telling the Gunners they have no choice but to give Elneny regular football.

Now he got the attention he really deserved.

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