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 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

Introducing Egypt’s biggest-ever delegation at the Olympics  

 With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
Updated 21 min 4 sec ago

Introducing Egypt’s biggest-ever delegation at the Olympics  

 With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
  • Inspirational team includes teenage superstars and female icons

CAIRO: With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo. They will be representing the country in 24 sports, the largest number of sports that Egypt has ever participated in.

Egypt is also being represented by its youngest athlete at the games in table tennis player Hana Godda, who is just 13.

Over the years, Egypt has accumulated a total of 32 Olympic medals, seven gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze.

Among the athletes representing Egypt in the games is modern pentathlete Haydy Morsy, whose dedication and hard work at only 21 have made her an inspiration to young girls all over the country.

“I am very happy to compete in Tokyo after the postponement for one year, Tokyo will be my third Olympic Games, after competing in Rio 2016, and the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 in China. I am very excited to represent my beloved country … and make everyone proud,” Morsy told Arab News.

Morsy was just 8 when she first started practicing sports, which initially started as a hobby.

Then, aged 13, she qualified for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

“In the beginning, I was just training with a team in a club, and just after two years, they asked me to join the national team … When you represent your country, you are at a different level where you have to work really hard to achieve your targets and dreams,” she added.

She explained that an Olympic medal has been her dream since she first started modern pentathlon.

“I want to be the first Egyptian female athlete in modern pentathlon to get an Olympic medal and make every Egyptian proud,” Morsy said.

Her life as an athlete is anything but relaxed. She dedicates her days to training and working towards her goals.  

“I wake up at around 6:00 a.m. to start my day with swimming training, and then I train every day for around six or seven hours. I know it sounds crazy, but I really love this sport, and always want to give it my all before I decide to retire,” she said.  

She qualified for the games after winning the 2019 African Championship before their postponement from 2020 to 2021.

“It was an unbelievable moment, I will never forget it, especially that the qualification was here in my hometown. And nothing is better than winning in front of your family and friends.

“I always look forward to achieving more and more as an athlete because I know one day I will stop and turn the page. I want to enjoy every single moment while playing the sport.”

Morsy is only one of many Egyptian athletes who have dedicated their lives to sport to represent their country in Tokyo.

But sadly, not all of the country’s athletes have been permitted to attend. 

Egyptian weightlifters will not compete in Tokyo after the International Weightlifting Federation banned the country after it was proven that its athletes were doping during the Youth African Games.

This ban includes Olympic medalists Sarah Samir and Mohamed Ihab, which will affect Egypt’s chances of breaking its previous record of five medals during a single edition of the competition.

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition
Updated 26 July 2021

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition
  • Saleh Elsharabaty fell at the final hurdle against Maksim Khramtcov 
  • Hedaya Wahba claimed her second Olympic medal after beating Paige McPherson of the US 17-6 in the Taekwondo women’s 67 kg competition

TOKYO: Saleh Elsharabaty fell just short of grabbing an Olympic gold for Jordan when he lost the Taekwondo men’s 80 kg final 20-9 to Maksim Khramtcov of the Russian Olympic Committee at the Makuhari Messe Hall in Tokyo.
Monday also proved to be a fruitful day for Egypt in the Japanese capital at the Taekwondo competition, with bronze medals won in both the women’s and men’s categories.
Hedaya Wahba claimed her second Olympic medal after beating Paige McPherson of the US 17-6 in the Taekwondo women’s 67 kg competition, having previously claimed a bronze in the 57 kg category at Rio 2016.

Shortly after she had confirmed her medal win, fellow Egyptian Seif Eissa defeated Richard Andre Ordemann of Norway in the Taekwondo men’s 80 kg bronze medal match with a score of 12-4.
Elsharabaty’s path to silver saw him beat Ordemann 5-4 in the round of 16, Achraf Mahboubi of Morocco 17-15 in the quarterfinal, and Nikita Rafalovich of Uzbekistan 13-11 in the semifinal.
In the final, he came up against a formidable opponent in Khramtcov, though his silver medal finish will no doubt be celebrated in Jordan.

Egypt, too, will be celebrating the achievements of its Taekwondo heroes.
Wahba, 28, beat Magda Wiet Henin of France 11-10 in the round of 16 and lost to Great Britain’s Lauren Williams in the quarterfinal. She won her repechage contest against Malia Paseka 19-0 to earn a shot at bronze.
The 23-year-old Eissa for his part beat Jack Marton of Australia 11-1 in the round of 16 and Simone Alessio of Italy 6-5 in the quarterfinal, before losing the semifinal 13-1 to Khramtcov.

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
  • The 23-year-old from Jeddah will take part in the 100m race on Friday
  • “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible,” Al-Dabbagh said

TOKYO: Only a few weeks ago, Yasmine Al-Dabbagh was an unknown Saudi sprinter with big dreams.
On Friday night, the whole world got to see her face as she, alongside Saudi rower Husein Alireza, had the honor of carrying Saudi Arabia’s flag at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020.
For the 23-year-old, as for the rest of 33-strong Saudi Olympic delegation, there is no greater honor than representing her country.
“It means the world to me, especially being part of a diverse and expansive team representing so many different activities,” Al-Dabbagh told Arab News. “Everything from judo, to table tennis, rowing, karate, archery, weightlifting, swimming, shooting and football. The sports sector in Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented growth and investment, thanks to Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman’s) Vision 2030. 
“As Saudi athletes, we are all proud of the important role sports plays in the country’s transformation. We have a great sporting ecosystem, that allows us to perform at the highest level and I can’t wait to go out on the track, to repay that faith by performing to the best of my ability.”

Al-Dabbagh will make her 100m Olympic debut at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday, July 30, but had things worked out differently earlier in her life, she could now have been taking part in a different sport.
“Ever since I can remember, sports has always been my passion,” Al-Dabbagh said. “When I was a student at Jeddah Knowledge School, I loved everything from basketball, swimming, volleyball and gymnastics. 
“Track and field held an especially exceptional place in my heart. It was running and the sound of my footsteps on the track that gave me a very specific feeling, and that feeling kept me coming back for more. It was a sense of being empowered, strong and self-confident.
“What also hooked me was that the challenge was on me,” she said. “As an individual sport, I love that you get out what you put in. It’s all on me. There is nowhere to hide. If I train well and put in the effort, I get the corresponding reward and absolutely love that feeling.”
Al-Dabbagh recalls that when she first started training, access to running facilities was a bit of a challenge, particularly for female athletes. This, she is proud to point out, is no longer the case.
“We are seeing massive investment across all sports in Saudi Arabia including women’s sports. The country is on the move with more people playing sports than ever before and personally I am extremely grateful (for) the support shown to me by so many, including Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and the Athletics Federation.”
At a time when female participation was still several years away from becoming widespread, and culturally more acceptable, across the Kingdom, she was lucky to have a family that believed in her unquestioningly.
“My family were and still are my biggest supporters and have always pushed me to pursue my dreams,” Al-Dabbagh said. “Whenever I felt doubtful or fearful, they were the ones who helped me overcome that. They always made sure that I knew that my dream of becoming an Olympian could one day be realized. I am so proud and humbled also, that the dream is now coming true.”
When vindication of her career path came, it could not have been from a more iconic source.
“My motto in life has always been to never give up,” she said. “As much of a cliché as that may sound, it genuinely helped me overcome many obstacles and fears to get to where I am today. I was told by one of my biggest idols, who is now my coach, Linford Christie, that I have the ability to make it to the Olympics. Ever since then, I have been working really hard to get to where I am today but this is only the start. As the saying goes, a journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. I consider this as a first step on a long journey to come, inshallah.”
Al-Dabbagh is particularly inspired by the American runner Allyson Felix, who has won a staggering 26 gold, eight silver and four bronze medals throughout her career. Six of those golds and three of the silvers were claimed in the Olympic Games, making her the first female runner in history to have that many gold medals for track and field. Fenix, who will also be at Tokyo 2020, will have a chance of breaking the world record of nine athletics gold medals held by her legendary compatriot, the sprinter Carl Lewis.
“The reason I admire Allyson so much is that in addition to her incredible success in sports, she is also a wife, mother, and founder of a brand that specializes in creating products for women by women,” said Al-Dabbagh. “The way she manages to balance different aspects of her life is an inspiration to myself and to many women all over the world.
“I would be amiss not to recognize our very own athletes at home,” she added. “In the runners department, Sarah Attar and Cariman Abu Al-Jadail, the equestrian Dilma Malhas and the swimmer Mariam Binladen.”
Al-Dabbagh only got the call to the Olympics three weeks before the start of Tokyo 2020.
“Earning a place at the Olympics means everything to me, and to do it through a ‘universality place’, breaking the national female record for the 100m race … I could not have asked for more,” she said. “It is a culmination of many hours of difficult training, spanning across Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. I even remember my 12th birthday being Olympics-themed … that is how much I wanted to be an Olympian, and I am truly ecstatic that this moment has finally arrived.”
When she steps onto the track at the Olympic Stadium in the early hours of Friday, she will be up against some of the best runners in the world, but after the disruptions of the last year, it is an experience she is relishing.
“I know I’m very inexperienced compared to my running competitors, but I see this as a positive,” he said. “I inevitably will gain so many lessons from the opportunity to be in Tokyo, on which I can hopefully build my future as an athlete. Just when I had hoped to dedicate 100 percent to training and competing, COVID struck so I’ve missed a lot of track time and many chances to race. But with this, I can only look forward to the Olympics and future events.
“Our world has gone through a rough 18 months, and I can’t wait to see sports bring together people from all walks of life, from all over the globe. I want to make sure I savor that moment and that it will propel my sporting career forward.”
Al-Dabbagh is not setting any specific goals at this stage in her career, but the landmarks keep coming just the same.
“My target is to always perform to the best of my ability,” she said. “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible. I am hoping to raise the bar that previous Saudi Olympians have set and to inspire even more young Saudis to pursue their dreams. I am already the holder of the national (100m) record and I’d like to improve upon that, and come back a better athlete. At this stage in my career and with my experience, I really see the games as a building block for the future, both for me personally, but importantly for the future of sports in the Kingdom.” 

Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition

Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition
Updated 26 July 2021

Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition

Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition
  • It is the 47-year-old’s second bronze after finishing third at Rio 2016 as an Independent Olympic Athlete

The shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi has won a bronze medal for Kuwait in the men’s skeet competition that concluded at Asaka Shooting Range on Monday morning.

The 57-year-old finished the competition’s final with a total of 46 points, third behind American Vincent Hancock whose new Olympic record of 59 saw him claim gold, and Jesper Hansen of Denmark who secured silver with 55.

This is Al-Rashidi’s second Olympic bronze, the first coming at Rio 2016 when he competed as an Independent Olympic Athlete.

He had previously taken part in five other games, finishing in 42nd position at Atlanta 1996, 14th at Sydney 2000, 9th at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, and 21st at London 2012.

At Tokyo 2020’s men’s skeet qualification Day 1 on Sunday, Al-Rashidi finished joint sixth with three rounds of 25, 25, 24, for a total of 74 out of 75. The following morning, he followed that up with qualification Day 2 total score of 122 (25, 25, 24, 25, 23) to confirm progress to the final later in the day.

Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent

Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent
Updated 26 July 2021

Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent

Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent
  • The 27-year-old was taking part in his second games after Rio 2016

Sulaiman Hammad’s Tokyo 2020 campaign is over after he lost to Canadian Arthur Margelidon in his elimination round of 32 of the men’s judo 73 kg competition at Nippon Budokan arena in the Japanese capital.

The Saudi’s loss in the knockout format means he joins other Kingdom athletes, the weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem and the shooter Saeed Al-Mutairi, in exiting the Olympics early, while rower Husein Alireza, who began his men’s single sculls competition on the opening day of the tournament, will be involved in tomorrow’s semifinal C/D, which allows him to improve his overall Olympic ranking.

The 27-year-old Hammad had two penalties called against him before Margelidon was awarded a waza-ari, the second highest score possible in judo, to win the contest and progress to round 16.

Hammad was returning for a second successive Olympics, having been part of the Saudi delegation for Rio 2016.

His first medal in the Kingdom’s colors came in 2011 when he won bronze at the Asian Judo Championship in the UAE. The year 2017 was particularly successful one for Hammad as he won bronze at the 2nd World Police Games in Abu Dhabi, finished 5th at the Asian Open in Taipei, and 7th at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku.

Earlier this year he reached the last 16 at the 2021 World Judo Championship in Budapest.