The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah

The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah
A visit to the Pharaohs and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah's home village reveals the inspiring story of a man with the footballing world at his feet. (REUTERS)
Updated 04 March 2018

The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah

The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah

BASYOUN, Egypt: In front of the Arab Contractors Club in Jabal Al-Asfar, east of Cairo, I embarked on a journey to Najrij, the hometown of Liverpool and Egypt star Mohamed Salah.
It is an arduous trip, one that the 25-year-old used to make every day, but one that reveals a lot about the drive and determination that have made Salah one of the best footballers in the world.

THE JOURNEY BEGINS
The journey started near the El-Mokawloon Club, where I boarded a minibus that took me to Ramses Square in the center of Cairo. It did not take long for the bus to become packed. Having broken free from Cairo’s notoriously crowded streets, we traveled 100 kilometers on bumpy roads to El-Maarad station in Tanta, a two-hour journey. Two hours, and another two taxi journeys later, I finally reached Salah’s hometown.
While neighboring villages had gates and signs displaying their names, Najrij had neither, and it was not until I asked the taxi driver that I was actually able to find my destination.
Najrij’s main street is a paved road that runs through alfalfa and wheat fields before reaching the village center. After walking for about 500 meters, I finally arrived at the street on which Salah and his family lived.
The four-hour journey from El-Mokawloon Club to his house was long and exhausting. But while I made the trip just once, it is a journey a young Salah took every day — back and forth — just so he could stay with his family and be with the people most important in his life.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
There was nothing exceptional about Salah’s three-story house. Similar to others around it, its exterior façade was unpainted, except for the balconies. The iron gate was closed, as was the garage.
Salah’s neighbors are used to seeing the world’s press descend on their street in search of where the star grew up. These streets were the arena where he played with friends, learning and honing his exceptional talent, scoring thousands of goals, before gaining experience playing alongside the footballers of the local Amateur Youth Center.
The Egyptian football star’s instructions to his family members are strict: “Do not speak to the media at all.”
According to sources close to his family, Salah feared that they would be chased and annoyed by the press delving into their personal lives. This move was praised by some, who felt he was simply making sure his private life was respected, while others criticized him, saying that people had a right to know details of the Egyptian star’s life.
But due to the silence little is known about what makes Salah tick and the foundations of what is fast becoming an exceptional career.

CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME
Walking around Najrij’s narrow streets and alleys, you would not guess that this was where one of the world’s best players grew up. There was not a single picture of the country’s favorite son on display, either on his house or anywhere else.
But while his face his absent from Najrij, his sense of civic duty and kindness is clearly evident. Across the village it was easy to find projects created and funded by Salah. There was the Azhari Institute for Girls, being built at a cost of 8 million Egyptian pounds ($450,000), according to the village’s mayor, Maher Shatiya. Salah has also helped build an outlet to sell National Service Projects Organization products in the village, as well as a building for ambulance services.
Walking through the village, it was not long before I stumbled across a store for school supplies owned by Hajj Mohammed El-Bahnasi. The 60-year-old used the small shop as a temporary head office for the Salah Foundation, which he managed in cooperation with a board of trustees that included Salah’s father, uncle and brother.
El-Bahnasi, like the rest of Najrij, is used to being hosted by local and foreign media. After selling drawing pads to two young girls, he straightened his back and said in a calm tone: “I don’t know why the media is so concerned with the details of the foundation’s work. This is charity work and must be kept secret so that it gets rewarded by God.”
I asked him to speak about the foundation in general — as he wished.
“Captain Mohamed suggested starting this foundation after spending a few days in the village last Ramadan and noticing how people in need went and knocked on the door of his family’s house. He and his father responded to several requests they received, but he decided there and then it would be better to organize this work and ensure help reached those who deserved it.
“We have identified those in need in our village first because we are aware of their circumstances.”
Today, about 400 families in the village, including widows, orphans, and those who are ill, receive assistance. On top of that the foundation finances a few marriages and helps Syrian refugees in the Gharbia Governorate, where the village is located.
El-Bahnasi believes “Salah’s success with Liverpool is a result of his proximity to God and his humanitarian and moral commitment, as well as the prayers of millions of loyal Egyptians.”

GLOBAL SUPERSTAR
El-Bahnasi’s son, Mahmoud, is a close friend of Salah’s; they speak regularly and discuss the Egyptian star’s performances in the Premier League and Champions League.
Of the new anthem sung by Liverpool fans, in which they chant: “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me. If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim, too,” El-Bahnasi said: “Every day after I perform Salat Al-Fajr, I surf social networking and news websites. One day and by coincidence, I read the news about the anthem the fans created for our son, Mohamed Salah, and I immediately broke into tears because Mohamed the Muslim still holds on to the morals of Najrij and everyone respects him and loves what he does — like prostrating in the pitch after scoring goals.
“Mohammed taught the Europeans that Islam encourages sincerity and diligence in everything we do. His success was not a coincidence because success requires hard work.”

THE MAYOR’S MEMORIES
Close to El-Bahnasi’s house is the home of Najrij’s mayor, Maher Shatiya. He was waiting for me on the balcony of his house, overlooking the street.
After Salah stopped his family speaking to the media, Shatiya, together with a few other villagers, took responsibility for speaking to journalists and answering their questions.
Sitting back and speaking in a tone that exuded both pride and enthusiasm, Shatiya said: “Mohamed was a very ordinary child — like all the other children in this village. He inherited his love for playing football from his father and uncles, who played with the village’s Amateur Youth Center’s team during the 1980s and 1990s.
“Salah’s father noticed his son’s talent and had him join the Ittihad Basyoun team when he was 12 years old.
“One day, Reda El-Mallah, a football scout, came to our village to watch another child named Sherif and possibly persuade him to join one of El-Mokawloon’s small teams in Tanta.
“He asked the children to play against Sherif so he could assess him. But watching the match there was one player who stood out — Mohamed Salah. So he asked him to play with El-Mokawloon in Tanta. From there Salah went on to play with the club’s youth team in Cairo, then for their first-team in the Premier League.
“It was then he began to make a name for himself across Egypt and it wasn’t long before European teams showed an interest.”
Salah’s first foray into European club football was with Swiss side Basel, where he moved in 2012. While at the Swiss giants he caught the eye of Chelsea and moved to Stamford Bridge two years later. Later success with Roma persuaded Liverpool to part with as much as £38 million ($52 million) and since his move to Anfield he has been setting the footballing world alight.

HOMEBOY AT HEART
Shatiya told me a story about Salah’s wedding that illustrates his love and attachment to Najrij.
“Salah’s henna party (a party thrown on the day before the wedding day) was held here,” he said. “And even though his wedding was in Cairo, he spent his honeymoon in the village.”
He added: “Salah walks around the village like any other young man. He knocks on the neighbors’ doors to say hello to them during occasions.
“He also renewed the tradition of visiting families during Eid and visited me when he was in the village last Ramadan after I was injured in a car accident.”




Mohamed Salah greets a neighbor on one of his many trips home. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

As if to illustrate the love the village has for Salah and the awe he inspires in children, three cafes were opened in Najrij after Salah become famous, just to accommodate all the football-mad children who are always keen to watch all his games.
“Our greatest wish was to see Salah play in the Egyptian Premier League, but he exceeded all expectations and played with the world’s greatest clubs and became the best footballer in Africa.”

HUMBLE HERO
I left the mayor’s house and headed to the Azhari Institute for Girls, which is still under construction, with Hassan Bakr, a social researcher at the Salah Foundation. When we headed toward the village’s youth center, which was renamed “Mohamed Salah’s Youth Center,” I asked my companion what he liked most about Salah, and his response was: “His humbleness.”
The center has a football pitch, and the main building was decorated with a big sign featuring Salah’s name. We saw a few children practicing karate inside one of the halls.
I bid Bakr farewell and left, returning to Cairo by the same route — another trip that lasted four exhausting hours. But while making my way back to the capital, I remembered this was the exact journey the Egyptian star would take every day and, despite the hardship, it only made him more determined to succeed and achieve his dream.


Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis

Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis
Updated 10 May 2021

Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis

Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis
  • The Malian striker will join up with the Riyadh club at the start of next season

LONDON: Al-Hilal may go through coaches at a rapid rate but when it comes to recruiting strikers, the Saudi Arabian giants have a far-sighted policy in place. No sooner had Bafetimbi Gomis become the fastest foreign player to score 100 goals for the club, it was announced that a new striker and a potential replacement was on his way to Riyadh. 

Moussa Marega was last seen scoring in the Portuguese league on April 22 to keep FC Porto’s title hopes alive and, from next season, the 30 year old will be an Al-Hilal player. As the French-born Mali international is out of contract at the end of the Primera Liga season and available on a free transfer, it marks a good bit of business from Al-Hilal, who will pay a reported 5 million euros ($6 million) a year over a three-year contract.

“In 1991, I was born in the French city of Les Ulis and in the same year, Al-Hilal won their first continental title,” Marega said as he was unveiled by the three-time Asian champions.

“These two stories continue to excite and they crossed again in 2020 when Al-Hilal won a hat-trick (of trophies) in Saudi Arabia and I did the same in Portugal,” he added, referring to his part in Porto’s triumph in the Portuguese League, Cup and Super Cup. “And now in 2021, my next destination is Saudi Arabia.”

Marega scored 52 league goals in his four seasons with Porto, and a further 10 in domestic cups. He also managed six goals in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League as he became the joint-third highest scorer that year alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Aguero.

He was welcomed to Riyadh by Gomis, who wrote on Twitter: “Welcome to (the) Al-Hilal family my brother.”

Marega’s arrival is likely to herald the end of Gomis’ time in Riyadh. The French forward has been one of the most successful foreign imports in the history of Saudi Arabian football. His 100th goal on Friday, one of two he scored in the 5-1 win against second placed Al-Shabab, that sent the defending champions three points clear with four games to play, came in only his 126th appearance for the club. Sixty-eight of those goals came in the league, eight in the King’s Cup, 17 in Asia — he was top scorer as Al-Hilal won the tournament in 2019 — five in the Arab Championship and two in the Club World Cup.

Gomis turns 36 in August and the arrival of Marega means speculation the former Lyon and Swansea star will return to Europe will intensify. When he does leave, the striker has said that he wishes to do so as a hero of Al-Hilal, though he refuses to comment specifically on a date.

“One day I will definitely leave but I want to leave when we have won the title,” Gomis said. “I have won many titles and had many historical achievements.”

Gomis helped Al-Hilal to the Saudi title last year and the AFC Champions League the year before and wants more prizes before he departs.

“This will be the best end for me. I would like history to remember that I was one of the leading goalscorers at Al-Hilal.

“It is my duty to give everything to the team and the fans, I know they love me personally so I feel a great responsibility towards them. That is why against Al-Shabab, I tried to do everything I could, both in attack and defence, for the team and especially for those fans,” he added.

The two goals Gomis netted against Al-Shabab were not just typical strikes from the star — and not only meant Al-Hilal are in touching distance of a successive title — but also meant Gomis now has 20 for the season, four more than Abha’s Carlos Strandberg, and is top of the goalscoring charts.

“The game against Al-Shabab is not the most important this season, it is all about the title and success for Al-Hilal but it is true that winning here brings us closer to the title,” he said. “It is something very special and I am delighted to achieve it, but the most important thing is that the team wins.” 

Regardless of how long he has left with Al-Hilal, it is certain that Gomis will get his wish and leave a hero, and if it is in the coming weeks, it is increasingly likely that he will leave as a champion.


Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe

Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe
Updated 10 May 2021

Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe

Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe
  • Madrid-born Moroccan international played a pivotal role in Milan club’s first championship in 11 years

DUBAI: An Egyptian, an Algerian and a Moroccan walk onto a football pitch. The punchline usually involves a curling left-footed shot into the back of the net.

When the topic of best Arab footballers currently playing in Europe comes up, three players inevitably dominate the discussion.

Since joining Liverpool in the summer 2017 Mohamed Salah has attained a level of superstardom that no other Arab footballer had come close to before.

Champions League and Premier League winners’ medals, the Golden Boot - twice, and seemingly countless individual awards, the Egyptian has cleaned up.

Even in a shockingly poor season by Liverpool, he continues to lead the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.

Just over a year before Salah’s move to Anfield, the Algerian Riyad Mahrez had played a heroic role in Leicester City’s sensational title win (which earned him the 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year award), and after joining Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in 2018 would become one of a select group players to win the Premier League title with two different clubs.

In the second half of this season Mahrez has been in stunning form and the coming weeks will surely add another title medal and potentially a Champions League winners medal to his collection.

Standing in his way in the final on May 29 will be Chelsea’s Moroccan playmaker Hakim Ziyech, who, while having a mostly frustrating, inconsistent season, has still managed to score the goal that set Chelsea on their way to a win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final and, at the weekend, grabbed the equaliser as the London club again beat Guardiola’s team to ensure that the Premier League coronation, inevitable as it is, will have to wait a little longer.

But it’s one of Ziyech’s international teammates that has a strong claim to being one of the outstanding Arab footballers playing in Europe in 2020-21.

And he has managed it well away from the hype machine that is the English Premier League. He also happens to be a defender, in name at least.

Inter Milan’s first Serie A title win in 11 years, ending a run of nine triumphs by Juventus, has been lit up by the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Stefan De Vrij, Lautaro Martínez and Nicolò Barella.

But one of the standout performers has been the brilliant, Madrid-born Moroccan Achraf Hakimi.

Someone at Real Madrid, Hakimi’s hometown club, will at some point have to explain how arguably the best right back in European football has been allowed to escape the Bernabéu, not once, but twice, over the last three years.

Having, at 18, been part of the squad that won the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool - and earlier collected FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup winners’ medals - Hakimi looked set for long and successful career with the Spanish giants.

But with Spanish defender Dani Carvajal - one of the team’s most trusted and senior performers - Hakimi was often reduced comes from the bench.

That summer, after being part of Morocco’s squad at the World Cup in Russia, Hakimi was loaned to Borussia Dortmund on a two-year deal.

At a club that values and encourages young talent, he flourished.

His marauding runs from defence became a feature of the team’s play, and his assists and goals have since earned comparisons with the likes of Trent Alexander Arnold and Reece James, attacking fullbacks which English football seem to suddenly be specializing in.

He won the German Super Cup in 2019, and his individual performances were increasingly drawing attention as opposition defenders struggled to cope with his speed and his deliveries.

Indeed, in February 2020, Hakimi set a Bundesliga speed record of 36.48 km/h against Union Berlin, beating the old record of 36.2 km/h he himself set earlier that season against RB Leipzig.

Hakimi must have thought he had done enough to have another crack at becoming first choice right back Real Madrid, who despite winning La Liga in the Covid-19-disrupted 2019-20 season, were now a shadow of the Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired team he had left two years earlier.

Instead he was sold to Inter for $48.69 million, and Zinedine’s Zidane’s loss would prove Antonio Conte’s gain.

Hakimi has been inspirational for his new team, scoring seven league goals and helping set up many on the way to the championship.

On May 1, he scored the second goal in a 2-0 win over Crotone to put Inter within touching distance of the coveted Seri A title.

The following day, Atalanta’s failure to win at Sassuolo meant the title was heading to the blue and black half of Milan. At 22, Hakimi was a title champion.

No doubt Hakimi and Inter will have their eyes on Champions League success next season, and the Moroccan will also be eyeing glorying with his country at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Cup (taking place at the start of 2022) and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Before that, Middle East, Arab and African audiences could well be hoping to see him take part in FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar next November.

He may not have achieved quite what Salah, Mahrez and Ziyech have and will in the near future, yet, but at only 22 he has plenty of time to catch up with that exalted trio with magical left feet.

And he’ll be doing it all with those devastating runs from way back in the defense.


Mansoor feeling ‘amazing’ after making step-up in WWE career

Mansoor feeling ‘amazing’ after making step-up in WWE career
Updated 10 May 2021

Mansoor feeling ‘amazing’ after making step-up in WWE career

Mansoor feeling ‘amazing’ after making step-up in WWE career
  • Last week the Saudi wrestler signed with WWE’s Raw brand

Saudi Superstar Mansoor said he feels “amazing” after being elevated to one of the WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands.

Last week, Mansoor signed to WWE RAW, a weekly show, in what was a huge step in his career to date.

Mansoor’s first match as an official member of the RAW roster saw him face the experienced Irishman Sheamus, and he is now looking forward to taking on some of WWE’s biggest names on a regular basis.

“It feels amazing,” said Mansoor, when asked for his thoughts on being promoted to RAW. “I’ve been on Super ShowDown, I’ve been on Crown Jewel, and those were big shows. But what I wanted most was to be consistent, and to be on a weekly program where I could show the world that I can perform every single week, not just once every few months.”

“Against Sheamus, with it being my first match (on RAW), it was a really good welcoming committee. There is nobody tougher than Sheamus. He’s probably one of the toughest men in the entire business, not just WWE.

“He loves to fight,” he added. “Even when I was hitting him with my elbows, I could feel the pain in my arm. He’s tough, he’s iron, and it’s important that I face people like that to challenge myself, and prove to the world, and the WWE universe, that I belong.”

Having earned a WWE contract after impressing at a tryout event in 2018, Mansoor’s rise to RAW has been rapid, and one which owes so much to the expert training he has received behind the scenes — along with good old-fashioned hard work.

“I’ve been training at the Performance Center in Orlando for about three years, and it’s been invaluable, the most essential experience I’ve ever had, to prepare me for this,” Mansoor said.

“The coaches are amazing, the facilities are amazing. I was lucky enough to be involved in matches on Main Event, wrestling guys like Drew Gulak and Angel Garza, getting experience with them.

“I didn’t know for sure if I was going to move up to RAW, I just knew that they wanted me to wrestle on Main Event to see how I did,” Mansoor said. “And then, on the day itself, I found out I was being signed to RAW. The preparation time was short, but in WWE anything can change at any time, so you always have to be ready.”


Zverev beats Berrettini to win his 2nd Madrid Open title

Zverev beats Berrettini to win his 2nd Madrid Open title
Updated 10 May 2021

Zverev beats Berrettini to win his 2nd Madrid Open title

Zverev beats Berrettini to win his 2nd Madrid Open title
  • Zverev won his first Madrid title in 2018 in a final against Thiem
  • The win on Sunday gave him his fourth Masters 1000 title

MADRID: Alexander Zverev continued his impressive form going into the French Open by winning his second Madrid Open title on Sunday.
After beating top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals and fourth-ranked Dominic Thiem in the semifinals, Zverev rallied to defeat Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-3 for his second title this season. The sixth-ranked German also won the Mexican Open in Acapulco in March.
Zverev won his first Madrid title in 2018 in a final against Thiem. The win on Sunday gave him his fourth Masters 1000 title, and first in three years. Zverev will be trying to improve from his fourth-round exit last year at the French Open.
“To do well at the French Open, you need to be playing well during the clay court season,” the 24-year-old Zverev said. “That is in a way important for me, as well. At the end of the day I won a Masters. There’s really very little in terms of bigger than this one right here. I’m happy with this achievement. Obviously, yeah, I look forward to the next few weeks. I look forward to what’s ahead.”
The 10th-ranked Berrettini won the title in Belgrade last week. The Italian has been gradually returning to form after struggling with an abdominal injury that kept him from playing his quarterfinal match against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open. The injury kept Berrettini out until Monte Carlo, where he lost his opening match.
“This was my first (Masters 1000) final. Hopefully it’s not going to be my last,” Berrettini said. “But like I said before, I’m really happy on my level. Today unfortunately I think I didn’t play my best tennis.”
After exchanging a break each in the first set, Berrettini opened the tiebreaker with a 5-0 lead but allowed Zverev to come back. The Italian closed it out on his fourth set point after Zverev also squandered a set point in the back-and-forth tiebreaker. It was the first set dropped by Zverev this week.
Zverev, who finished with seven double-faults, evened the match after breaking Berrettini at 4-4 and serving out to clinch the second set at the Magic Box center court, which had its roof closed because of rain in Madrid.
Berrettini, who ended with 50 unforced errors, squandered a break point early in the third set, and Zverev broke him in the following game to take the lead. He earned another break at the end, converting on his second match point to clinch the victory.
In the men’s doubles final, Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina defeated Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic of Croatia 1-6, 6-3, 10-8.
The Madrid Open was one of the first sporting events in Spain that allowed the presence of a limited number of fans. The tournament was among those canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Local health workers were honored by tournament organizers before the final on Sunday.
In the women’s edition, Aryna Sabalenka beat top-ranked Ash Barty 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 in Saturday’s final.


Mercedes masterstroke in Spain helps Hamilton deny Verstappen

Mercedes masterstroke in Spain helps Hamilton deny Verstappen
Updated 09 May 2021

Mercedes masterstroke in Spain helps Hamilton deny Verstappen

Mercedes masterstroke in Spain helps Hamilton deny Verstappen
  • Hamilton moved on to 98 career wins after a surprise second change of tires hoodwinked Red Bull to lift him 14 points clear of Verstappen
  • Bottas took third in the second Mercedes with Leclerc’s Ferrari in fourth and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull completing the top five

BARCELONA: Lewis Hamilton claimed his fifth successive Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after a Mercedes pit-stop masterstroke.
Hamilton moved on to 98 career wins after a surprise second change of tires hoodwinked Red Bull to lift him 14 points clear of Verstappen in the drivers’ standings.
“It was a really great strategy by the team. What a day!” beamed Hamilton, who was quick to acknowledge the smattering of fans allowed in to watch, a rare occurence in the time of coronavirus.
“It is great to see. I saw a British flag out there which I haven’t seen for a long, long time. I feel great after this. I feel like I could go again.”
Hamilton had set off from pole for the 100th time but was beaten to the first corner by Verstappen, with Charles Leclerc for Ferrari dishing out the same treatment on Valtteri Bottas on turn two.
On lap eight Yuki Tsunoda’s Sunday drive in Catalonia suffered a premature end when his AlphaTauri came to a grinding halt.
“Engine stop” the Japanese rookie lamented as the safety car emerged briefly to remove the immobile obstacle.
Verstappen held off Hamilton comfortably on the restart on lap 11, with Leclerc continuing to split the two Mercedes.
With a third of the race completed the first round of pit stops began, with all eyes on which of the front two with less than a second between them would blink first.
Verstappen it was who came in on lap 25, but the pit stop was slow by a couple of seconds in another minor but potentially critical error by the Red Bull title pretenders.
The Mercedes pit wall pulled Hamilton in for a lightning stop a few laps later as they pinned their hopes on fresher medium tires making the difference toward the finish.
At the midway point Hamilton set the fastest lap to go less than two and a half seconds behind his Dutch rival. The gap was less than a second shortly after.
On lap 43 Mercedes played their ace card.
Hamilton, half a second off the lead, came into the pits for a second new set of mediums.
He reemerged with under 23sec to make up on Verstappen, who with tire wear was in danger of becoming what he would describe afterwards as “a sitting duck” for the man in pursuit of a record eighth drivers’ title.
Hamilton asked his pit wall: “How far have I got to catch up?“
“Currently 22 seconds... we’ve done it before...” came back the reply.
There was a note of desperation on Red Bull’s radio with Verstappen suggesting “I don’t know how we are going to make it to the end.”
Hamilton moved into second but there was no hint of team orders with Bottas forcing his teammate into full overtaking mode.
Ten laps to go and Hamilton had only three seconds to make up on Verstappen and on lap 60 he did it, surging past the Dutchman on turn one — Toto Wolff, his team boss, punching the air with delight as their masterstroke paid off.
Hamilton said he was in two minds as to whether to obey the order to come in.
“I was about to get a shot to get past him as I pitted. I was really conflicted — ‘do I come in or ignore the call?’.
“I did what the team asked because there is a great trust between us. Remarkable job by everyone in this team. What a day.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “In fairness, hats off to Mercedes and Lewis.”
Verstappen said: “We’re not where we want to be and we still need to push hard and catch up because at the moment we are a little bit slower. But compared to last year, it has been a jump for us.”
Bottas took third in the second Mercedes with Leclerc’s Ferrari in fourth and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull completing the top five.
Formula One takes a breather next weekend before returning for the Monaco Grand Prix with Hamilton possibly having a tilt at his century of wins in Azerbaijan at the start of June.