It will forever remain a mystery as to how Mohamed Salah is only the second Egyptian player in history to be named Africa’s best, but the fact remains that Salah was head and shoulders above every player from the continent in 2017.
Salah, the boy from Basyoun, a tiny rural city in Gharbeya, Egypt, promised his friend in a Facebook comment that he would win the CAF Award and not just be nominated to it in 2014. Fast-forward three years, Mo Salah is currently Africa’s best.
Ever since bursting onto the scene in Egypt, many expected great things from Salah. After all he was the first Egyptian player to move to Basel where three more Egyptians followed him after the young Pharaoh stole the hearts of the Rot-Blau faithful.
He was handed a tough task in Switzerland, coming in to replace arguably one of the country’s best-ever youth products in Xherdan Shaqiri who had moved on to FC Bayern Munchen.
Little did we know, Salah would surpass the powerful winger’s exploits with ease, and be named the Swiss League’s best player in 2014.
Salah was always thought to be the man to carry the torch after the Smiling Assassin, Mohamed Abou-Treika. They both played together for a brief period before the Al Ahly man’s retirement, both coming close to sending Egypt to the 2014 FIFA World Cup but a dreadful day in Kumasi ended that dream.
Treika retired and left Salah to become the ‘Leader of Men’ and he took on the challenge with open arms.
In the 2015 winter transfer window, Salah sealed his move to London-based Chelsea FC.
After all, he had managed to score three times against them in three different European Cup matches, which made the move happen. If you can’t beat them, join them, right? Albeit this time if you can’t beat them, sign them; which made more sense to then-coach, Jose Mourinho.
He joined when Juan Mata had left to sign for Manchester United, where many had expected him to replace the man who had provided over 30 assists in two seasons for the Blues and was named the club’s best player for two years running. It was never going to be an easy task replacing the mesmerising Spaniard.
13 minutes against Newcastle and West Brom was not enough to make his mark. On his third match, he scored against Arsenal, a 6th goal in the mauling of the Gunners.
Two games later he scored and assisted twice in 90 minutes against Stoke City. Many had expected this match to be Salah’s chance but it was not meant to be. A tough second season ended up with him joining Serie A side, Fiorentina, in an attempt to get more playing time.
Salah started to shine again and if one man can vouch for it, it should be Juventus’ Padoin; who could be still having nightmares about the Egyptian after his famous double against the club.
The 25-year-old enjoyed a fruitful two seasons at AS Roma, having turned down the chance to remain at Fiorentina, scoring 15 goals in his first season for the club before running the show in 2016/17, scoring a career-high 19 goals.
Salah will remember many things from his time in Rome, but one thing he’ll never forget is coming off for Francesco Totti as the Italian came on for his last minutes for the club before retirement.
Salah was set to join Liverpool before Jose Mourinho made the phone call that changed his destination to London. Years later, Liverpool break the bank for him and he becomes the club’s most expensive signing in the five-time UEFA Champions League winners’ history; completing his dream move in 2017.
Now that we’re in 2017, let’s go back a few months, particularly in Gabon. Salah was getting ready to participate in his first-ever Africa Cup of Nations tournament after the Pharaohs failed to qualify for the previous three editions.
Playing a pivotal role in the nation’s return was done, now it was time to face the first big challenge of his international career. Yes, the Olympics in 2012 was big but it is not as important to Egypt, who holds the record for most AFCON titles in history, with seven.
Salah pulled the strings throughout, scoring two goals and assisting another two from a total of five goals scored throughout the tournament as Egypt went on the reach the final. 45 minutes into the final it seemed like the dream was going to come true before two goals from the Indomitable Lions crushed the dream of an 8th title.
Another task on the international scene remained – reaching the World Cup. Egypt hadn’t qualified for the biggest stage in world football since 1990. They had already won their opening two group matches in 2016. Four remained and there was no doubt Egypt were in poll position now.
Two quick-fire matches against Uganda in the space of a week brought mixed results.
The Pharaohs fell away from home but Salah was the hero once again as he scored the only goal in the second match and with results going their way, it meant Egypt needed a win against bottom-ranked Congo at home.
It was the most important match in Salah’s career. 100,000 fans in Borg El-Arab stadium ready to go to Russia, expecting it to be an easy task. Unfortunately, Congo seemed like a changed team.
Very resilient, as Egypt and Salah had to capitalize on a defensive error in the 63rd minute to break the deadlock. The fans went wild, Egypt were going to the World Cup, or that is what everyone thought at the moment.
Egypt were caught napping in the 87th minute, and were pegged back. You could hear a pin drop in the stadium, with memories of the 2009 match against Algeria coming back. The Pharaohs and particularly Salah did not give up and in the 94th minute were awarded a penalty.
Salah went on to score as 104 million Egyptians had trusted the man to get the result and Egypt qualified to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
Reaching the Africa Cup of Nations final, qualifying to the FIFA World Cup and ending up as joint-top scorer in the African World Cup Qualifiers were the highlights for Salah in 2017.
On club level, it only got better since he joined Liverpool, by December he had scored 23 goals for the Reds. He sat comfortably in second spot for the league’s top scorer award with 17 goals behind two-time winner Harry Kane (18) and with five Champions League goals in the group stages, he was named UEFA Champions League player of the week twice.
Maybe his most important strike came against the club that did not put faith in him, Chelsea. What made it sweeter was that he invited the man that claimed he was not good enough for Zamalek years ago, Mamdouh Abbas to watch from the stands.
Salah was then a worthy winner of the BBC African Player of the Year. Days later he was named November Player of the Month in England. Liverpool’s three-time Player of the Month was also awarded the best Arab Player in 2017 and it became apparent he would go on to win the CAF title as well.
If you’re speaking about numbers, then you would realise that no Egyptian player in history had managed to score 39 goals in 60 official appearances in a calendar year for club and country.
More impressive seeing that again, he is not a striker. Salah quickly surpassed Hassan Kachloul to become the third-top Arab goal scorer in the English Premier League behind comrade Ahmed Hossam ‘Mido’ and 2016 CAF Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez.
At just 25, Mohamed Salah had scored 100 career club goals with only 12 coming from his time in Egypt.
The determination of Mo does not end, as he claimed he’d be looking to win 20 more of the same title after being named Africa’s finest, and Egyptians don’t have a shadow of doubt that Salah will win the award again in the coming years.
…with Gottlieb Baako