When Salah was in his early teens, he was a left-back at the youth team of a club near Cairo called Arab Contractors. Such was his ability to get into goalscoring positions that, in a game his team won 4-0, he apparently missed five one-on-ones. But back then nobody lauded his ability to carve out chances, least of all Salah himself, who broke down in tears.
At that time Salah was just another Egyptian kid hoping to make it, but he worked harder than most and got good advice. His coach that day, Said El-Shishini, felt Salah was too tired to finish properly by the time he had run all the way from left-back to goal. He decided to play him as a right winger.
“I told him he’d be the team’s top scorer in both leagues, the U16 Cairo League and the U17 Nationwide League,” El-Shishini said. By the end of the season, Salah had scored 35 goals.
Since then Salah has moved to Basel, Chelsea, Fiorentina, Roma and Liverpool, stumbling through language barriers and spells on the bench. Now all his hard work has paid off. In Rome he averaged a goal every second league game, a top rate for a wide forward. At Liverpool he has been used in an even more advanced role and also become sturdier since his troubled spell at Chelsea, a quality that has enabled him to receive the ball with his back to goal, turn, and shoot or take on defenders.
The result last season was 10 goals in the Champions League – including one in each quarter-final leg against Manchester City and a brace in the semi-final first-leg trouncing of Roma – and 32 in the league, a record in a single Premier League campaign. Not even Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer or Luis Suarez hit that figure over a 38-game campaign – and Salah hasn’t even been the first-choice penalty taker. In September, his efforts were rewarded with third place in FIFA’s award for the best player in the world. He finished sixth in the Ballon d’Or voting.
The stats now suggest that Salah has struggled more since the World Cup, where Egypt went out in the World Cup group stage, but the 26-year-old is still getting chances and recently grabbed a hat-trick at Bournemouth which took him back to the top of the Premier League scoring charts.
Only some poor finishing has stopped him from replicating the stunning form he enjoyed last season, and yet he still has a slightly better than one-in-two record across league and Europe this term. The problem – and it’s a good one to have – is that last season’s exploits have simply raised the bar of expectation so much.
In any case, Salah can take comfort from the fact that no matter how wasteful an afternoon he might endure, he has been through worse.