Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

Mohamed Salah - one of the biggest names in the Arab World right now - has been unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region. (AN Photo/Mohammed Chebaro)
Updated 24 May 2018

Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

  • Mohamed Salah lines up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday
  • Mohamed Salah has been unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region

LONDON: On Saturday Mohamed Salah will line up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
He will do so not only with the every member of the Red army behind him, but also the entire Arab world.
That is testament to his stratospheric rise — over the past nine months the Egyptian ace has gone from being a very good player, but one deemed as needing to justify his $52 million transfer fee, to a global superstar and cultural phenomenon.
As with any sporting star, with the adulation and attention comes potential pitfalls and, invariably, a new lexicon. So it was not surprising to hear the 25-year-old speak of “his brand” when he was unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region on Wednesday. Stars becoming brands is almost cliche now and one that Salah has clearly taken on board — he now has even his own logo.
“We are proud of him. Over the past two years, no has done what he has done. He has proved himself as one of the best and we wanted to deal with no one else, just him,” CEO of DHL in the Middle East and North Africa, Nour Suliman, said. “He is competing on another level and is the star of the Arab world. No one in the Arab world has done what he is doing. We are very proud to have him.”
Those types of corporate events, where a big multinational signs a deal with the latest big, young thing, lend themselves to the odd dollop of hyperbole. But there is little doubting the impact Salah has had on the pitch for Liverpool and Egypt, and off it in becoming a true Arab icon. And his utterance of the word “brand” is where Salah as a walking cliche begins and ends.
Every year in Egypt ahead of Ramadan the best dates are named after the most popular person in the country — the man or woman revered by the nation at that moment. In the past, the staple food of the holy month has tended to be named after political leaders.
This year there was no competition: The most succulent date has been named after Salah. At the DHL press conference he was presented with a packet of dates emblazoned with his face and name.
It said much about the man that he both looked and confessed to being “embarrassed.”
This week the British Museum in London displayed Salah’s green football boots as part of its Modern Egypt exhibition. And in a documentary about the player broadcast in the UK, he was credited with increasing attendances at England’s oldest mosque in Liverpool and improving the image of Islam by Dr. Abdul Hamid, a trustee at the mosque.
So while the signing of big deals hints he is very much the modern-day footballing superstar, everything else off the pitch suggests something else.
Salah is on social media, but does not, like many sports stars, live on it; he knows he is a hero for many, but pays more than mere lip service to his position as a role model; and he embraces attention (of both opposition defenders and fans) rather than seemingly getting annoyed by it if things are not going his way.
“I am not heavy into social media, I am on it and aware of it, but I don’t follow it that closely. It does not influence me,” he said.
“I am aware young people look up to me and I feel great that they do and that I can influence a young footballer to play better or train harder, or do better; that that makes me proud.”
This season Salah has done what few footballers have done before, transcend the game, and he has done so in a way characterized by benevolence rather than bluster.
Against Real Madrid he can again illustrate just what a talent he is — and if he does lead Liverpool to their sixth European Cup triumph, you get the feeling he will not let the adulation go to his head.

Can Barcelona shine without their star man Lionel Messi?

Updated 20 min 58 sec ago

Can Barcelona shine without their star man Lionel Messi?

  • Barca's first test without their main man is against Inter Milan at home in the Champions League on Wednesday.
  • Catalans will look to Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha and Malcom, to step up in his absence.

BARCELONA: Barcelona’s lowest ebbs are invariably followed by questions about Lionel Messi but the issue of over-reliance may become clearer over the coming weeks.
The sight of Messi on the ground, grasping his right arm, during Barca’s win over Sevilla on Saturday prompted reactions inside the Non Camp normally reserved for the conceding of goals.
Hands behind heads, fingers over mouths, the concern became real shortly after the final whistle when the club confirmed Messi had fractured his radial bone.
His absence leaves Barca vulnerable when they need him most, for a run of fixtures that includes Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday, the Clasico against Real Madrid on Sunday, before a return match against Inter in Italy at the start of next month.
If he takes longer than expected to recover, he could miss tricky games against Real Betis and Atletico Madrid in La Liga too.

Argentine ace Messi was in agony as soon as he hit the turf — he will be out for as many as six matches. 

Barcelona have grown used to accusations of dependence, not least when results have taken a turn for the worse.
When Ernesto Valverde left Messi on the bench for the 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao last month, the argument was given added weight by him coming on and making the assist for their equalizer.
“This is Barcelona,” Messi said afterwards. “We have a strong team and we have enough not to have to depend on one player.”
The same point was raised last season, when Messi, as a substitute, inspired a late fightback from two goals down against Sevilla and scored in the 89th minute.
He played the entirety of the Champions League collapse against Roma but then the criticism was Barca had failed to find the answer when Messi had not provided it.
There is no team in the world that would not look worse with Messi extracted.


As Real Madrid are proving in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, a striker’s goals are difficult to replace but so too is the aura.
“Emotionally we know when Messi is there he gives us more confidence because he is the best in the world,” Pique said on Saturday. “But it does not have to affect us.”
To maintain a resurgence built on wins over Tottenham and Sevilla, as well as a draw away to Valencia, Valverde will have to find the solution.

Can Ousmane Dembele raise his game in the absence of Messi? 

On Monday, Marca listed six options in a “casting for replacements” — Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha, Munir El-Haddadi, Malcom, Carles Alena and Sergi Roberto.
Alena, the 20-year-old midfielder, is an exciting talent, while Malcom, only a year older, scored 12 goals for Bordeaux last season.
But Dembele is the most obvious. Messi’s position on the right of the front three is where he is most comfortable, rather than off the left, where the 21-year-old has often been made to adapt so far.
After a debut season blighted by injuries, Dembele started the first six games of this one, scoring five goals.
But doubts remain about him in big games, where his habit for losing possession can be punished by opponents quick in transition and clinical on the counter-attack.
When Barca went three matches without a win, he was dropped. “He is not yet fully aware of what it means to play at the highest level,” said France coach Didier Deschamps last month. “He still needs to learn,” Valverde said last weekend.
It would be a surprise if Dembele was not at least given the chance at Camp Nou against Inter, who are level on points with Barca in Group B, having also beaten PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham.
Second place might have been the limit of Inter’s ambitions when the draw was made but with Messi out, they might spy an opportunity. “It is a pity,” said Mauro Icardi. “And a big blow for them.”