Mohamed Salah (Mohamed Salah Hamed Mahrous Ghaly) was born in Basyoun on June 15, 1992. Just 17 years later, he was making his first-team debut for Arab Contractors. Here, Mo opens up on his early years and explains how he broke into professional football…
I first fell in love with football when I was a kid, around seven or eight years old. I remember watching the Champions League all the time and then trying to be like the Brazilian Ronaldo, Zidane and Totti when playing out in the street with my friends. I loved those kinds of players, players who played with magic.
I’d also play football with my brother, but he’s not that good! Well, not as good as me! But I also had all of my friends always playing football, so I’d play with them too. I have an older friend and he’d always tell me, ‘you will be a big player one day’. He was my best friend back then and even now, he’s still my best friend to this day.
It was when I was 14 that I first signed with Arab Contractors (El Mokawloon) and my career in the professional game began – but it was a tough time for me.
I had originally been playing for a club that was half an hour away from my village in Basyoun. Then I signed for a club in Tanta, which was one-and-a-half hours away. From there, I went to Arab Contractors in Cairo, so it was a four to four-and-a-half-hour journey five days a week to get to training.
I was having to leave school early to travel to training. I would go in from 7am until 9am and then I had an official paper to give to my club to say, ‘Mo can leave school early so he can reach the club at 2pm to train’. So I was only at school for two hours a day during that time. Now, everything would be difficult if I was not a footballer, I think!
For five days a week, every week for three or four years, I would make this journey. I was leaving at 9am in the morning, then I would arrive at the training ground at 2pm or 2.30pm. Training was always at 3.30pm or 4pm. I would finish training at say 6pm, then I’d go home and arrive at 10pm or 10.30pm. Then it was eat, sleep and then the day after the same thing.
And it wasn’t just taking one bus – I’d have to transfer buses three, four or even sometimes five times just to arrive at training and then back home again.
As I said, it was a difficult time, but I was young and I wanted to be a footballer. I wanted to be a big name. I wanted to be something special. I cannot promise you that it was clear to me what I would become and I was like, ‘I will be something special’. No, it was not like this. I was coming from nothing, a 14-year-old kid with a dream. I didn’t know it would happen, I just wanted it to happen so badly.
I still remember everything from my youth very clearly, but it is difficult to say at what age I began to realise I could make a career in football. When I was maybe 16 or 17, everything became bigger for me. Now I was with the first team, so I was very close to becoming something. But before that, I was young and I just wanted to play football and enjoy it. I was scared not to become a footballer, but I did my best and hoped in the end everything would be fine. But at 16, everything became bigger when I made my first-team debut.
If I hadn’t become a footballer, I cannot say what I might have become because ever since I started playing at 14, everything in my mind was about becoming a footballer. It was a question, ‘what will I be?’, but it was difficult to say because I had nothing else in my mind. If I was not a good football player, I am sure my life would be difficult now because I gave everything for football.
When I look back, the memories of my time with Arab Contractors are good ones. I was young and I had a dream.
Mohamed Salah: Stepping up for Egypt
Salah was just 19 when he made his debut for Egypt – in a match against Sierra Leone in September 2011. A month later, he struck his first goal for his country against Niger, while he also represented the Pharaohs at the Olympic Games in England in 2012…
I couldn’t believe it – I was in the national team when I was 19. It was hard to let it sink in because at the time it was usually too early for a player of that age. Especially for us, my generation, because the generation before ours, all of them were around the age of 30.
When someone was called into the national team, they’d be 27, 28… but I was 19, so it was like, ‘wow!’ and difficult to understand. But I had to deal with it quickly.
I think after a year or two people thought, ‘OK, now he is a man for the national team – he has to produce in all of the games’. There was a lot of pressure early, but it was like a dream to play with the national team.
One of my best memories of those early days with the national team was when I went to the Olympics in 2012. It was a good moment for me, especially because I’d just signed for Basel.
I went to the tournament and scored a goal in all three group games against Brazil, New Zealand and Belarus and we got to the quarter-finals.
That actually helped me have a good start with the Basel fans because they could be like, ‘ah, he’s scoring there – that’s good for us!’
It was also good for me to push me and give me more energy to see myself as a top player. Olympic Games always have the top players involved, so it was a good time for me.
Mohamed Salah: Moving to Europe
After starring for Arab Contractors, Salah made the move to Europe in 2012 on the back of his hugely successful showing at the Olympics. FC Basel in Switzerland was his destination as he moved continents for the first time.
It was very difficult. That’s what I can say, it’s very difficult to move to a club on another continent, especially at such a young age.
I grew up in Egypt, I knew everything in Egypt… but I didn’t know anything in Switzerland. I couldn’t understand any language because I couldn’t speak English or Swiss German. I didn’t know where I could pick up my food or anything.
I went there and lived alone. It was a difficult time because I didn’t know what to do. We’d finish training and I’d have 15 hours until I was back at training, with 10 of them to sleep, so I’d just go for walks around the streets for a few hours, then go back to the hotel.
When I got back to the hotel, I’d have no channels I could watch – no Egyptian channels on the TV! So it was a tough time in the beginning, but I think I was able to change in my mind quickly and adapt. I was flexible and I told myself, ‘OK, now I have to deal with this situation or it will be even tougher’. So that’s what I did.
I was there alone, but all the time I was thinking about improving myself and trying to become different to all the other players, or other Egyptian players. That’s what was always in my mind and, as I said, that’s why I was able very quickly to change my mind.
I started English courses and had some classes to help me communicate. They were going well, but after a while I had to stop because I wasn’t getting enough time to complete them after training. When I came to England with Chelsea, I was able to improve my English a little bit. Then I obviously went to Italy and learnt Italian, which I can speak well – and now I am back in England to improve my English, although now I think it is fine!
On the pitch, it was a step up for me – most of all in the Champions League. Playing in that tournament was unbelievable and one of the reasons I wanted to join Basel. In my first year there, we didn’t make the group stages because we lost in the qualifying round.
But we had a really good Europa League run that season, reaching the semi-finals. I personally also did well in the competition; I think I made five or six assists and was one of the leading assist-makers in the competition.
I was very happy, but I was determined to help us get back in the Champions League – and we did the following season.
What I can say is Basel is a fantastic club. Absolutely fantastic. I have a good relationship even now with the president of the club, the ex-president and everyone there. They are still my friends and I love them so much.
I always look out for their results to see how they’re doing, especially because there is one Egyptian player there who is my friend – Omar Gaber. We are very close and we talk to each other every day.
They provide a brilliant base for any African player to start in Europe. It is a big club, everything is fine organisationally, they’re very professional and I played Champions League and Europa League.
Basel is a huge step in my career so far. 100 per cent, without Basel I wouldn’t be the player I am now. 100 per cent.
Mohamed Salah: London calling
In January 2014, amid reported interest from Liverpool, Chelsea announced the signing of Salah from Basel. He spent one year with the Londoners, which included an Anfield experience that would later have an impact on his decision to come to Liverpool…
There was interest from Liverpool when I went to Chelsea, but I think if I’d come at that time maybe things wouldn’t have maybe have gone as well then as they have for me now. Who knows? But I went to Chelsea and everything worked out how it did and now I am here at Liverpool at the right time.
When I go somewhere, I am always telling myself ‘I have to learn from here’ – and I know, 100 per cent, I learned a lot from Chelsea; I learned how to be more professional and to become a better person and player. It was a big step in my career and I had a good relationship with the players there – and you could see that when we played them at Anfield recently.
It was while I was at Chelsea that I first got to play at Anfield. I can remember I told myself – as I said on my very first day here – ‘I have to come here one day and play’ after I’d experienced that atmosphere.
That atmosphere was unbelievable, really. I was very happy to play here against Liverpool – and now I am even happier to play for Liverpool here.
Mohamed Salah: Off to Italy
Salah moved to Italy in February 2015, initially on loan to Fiorentina before he joined AS Roma, where he spent two highly successful seasons and accelerated his development…
I had a good four months at Fiorentina and it was a good time for me and us as a team; I did well and we performed well in the Europa League and Serie A. Before I went there, it was very clear in my mind: I deserve to play. I had belief in my ability and I was going to Fiorentina to show everyone my football and what I could do.
Then I had a great two years in Rome and I was very, very happy there. Roma is not an easy place to play, it’s not easy at home – there is a lot of pressure there and it’s different. I cannot explain it, but inside you feel it is different to any other club. Everything is amazing there, though – the club is good, the fans are unbelievable and I had a great relationship with them because they always showed me love and respect.
Luciano Spalletti helped me a lot. A lot. He is very, very smart. Always after training, I would speak to him, ‘Boss, I want to improve that’ or, ‘I want to do this’ and he would never say no. Never. He would always say, ‘OK’ and even if he could see you were tired, he would always be telling you what he wants you to do, what he wants you to improve, ‘do this or do that, that’s better’. He helped me even as a person in improving my character. Defensively he helped me too, 100 per cent. He showed me the way to defend with the team and I saw myself improving in that aspect a lot.
I think I changed the perception of me during my time with Fiorentina and then Roma.
Mohamed Salah: On to Anfield
In June 2017, Liverpool announced they had secured Salah’s services on a long-term deal, with the Egyptian taking the club’s No.11 jersey. Fans were excited – and so far, it’s been proven they had every reason to be…
I’d said to myself, ‘I want to come back to England’. It was always in my mind, coming back here. I wanted to play here and show everyone my football. When I realised I was very close to coming here, I was very, very happy – and after speaking to the boss for the first time after the deal was agreed, I was even happier.
Why were Liverpool the right club for me? Because of many things. I even used to play as Liverpool on the PlayStation on FIFA when I was 18 or 19, as Steven Gerrard, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Xabi Alonso. I also remembered that atmosphere again and it came into my mind.
The way we play here is different to Rome, which is why I think I took one, two or three weeks to adapt. But ultimately, I think it has worked out well and we are working together well – but we need to win many games to be in a better position.
The players are very nice, very close to me and everything is fine. We talk to each other, we have good times, all of them are humble and that’s what makes me better and better and better. It’s not about anything else, it’s about the atmosphere in the club and being close to the players and the coach.
Mohamed Salah: Life in Liverpool
There are several variations of Liverpool fan chants for Salah, but his name can be heard at every fixture: home, away and in Europe. So, just how much is he enjoying life at his new club?
It’s good, I’m very happy here, but in all honesty I don’t go out much – I just stay at home with family and they really like Liverpool, too. But I’ve been out in the city one or two times and had a walk around the area.
At home, I like to watch TV to relax or read a book. It changes my mood, I’m not just watching and thinking about football all the time. I like to enjoy my time with family. I was watching English TV mainly since I arrived, but recently I had Arabic TV installed, so now I am starting to watch it. I don’t watch TV that much, though – I probably watch more things on YouTube, or read books.
I like comedy movies because I like to laugh, and so I’ll watch them on our flights. I’ll also watch videos about how to improve yourself.
I understand Scouse, I think, but it’s very difficult… very difficult! The accent is so hard to understand. Flanno’s accent is the worst one – I cannot understand anything from him. The way he is talking is like he’s not talking normally!
I am happy when the fans sing my name. I can hear them on the pitch and it makes me happy. It makes you feel like, ‘wow’. It changes your emotions. I have to thank the fans very much for singing my name. Really, I respect it a lot. It’s a big thing for me – to have been here for a few months, but to have the fans singing my name every game, showing me love and respect, it means a lot to me.
On the subject of singing, it is true I did an initiation song during the pre-season training camp in Germany! I sung it in Arabic so nobody could understand! It was a good time. Since I arrived here, I have been speaking to all of my teammates. It was very quick how fast I settled into the group.
It’s going good for me here, but I always felt I would settle quickly. And I think I can get better, 100 per cent. I can improve on many things, so I have to keep working hard, I have to keep looking forward.
As a team, I know we haven’t won the Premier League for a long time, so I would love to win it with Liverpool. We have a great team, we have a great manager, so everything is good at the club – and I am sure we can win trophies here together.
- Mohamed Salah Hamed Mahrous Ghaly Biography and Profile (Liverpool FC)