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.

Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020

Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020
Updated 15 min 47 sec ago

Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020

Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020
  • Amr Reda Ramadan Hussen of Egypt reached the quarterfinal of the men’s freestyle 74kg competition before being knocked out

Thursday morning proved a hugely disappointing one for Arab wrestlers, as two Egyptian athletes and one from Algeria exited Tokyo 2020 at Makuhari Messe Hall in the Japanese capital.

Amr Reda Ramadan Hussen of Egypt started well, winning his men’s freestyle 74 kg round of 16 match 6-1 against Kamil Rybicki of Poland. Unfortunately, that would prove to be the day’s only success for the North African wrestlers.

Hussen went on to lose his quarterfinal 8-5 to Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Kaisanov to miss out on a chance of securing a shot at a medal.

Meanwhile, in the men’s freestyle 125 kg competition, Diaaeldin Kamal Gouda Abdelmottaleb of Egypt and Djahid Berrahal of Algeria were both comprehensively defeated in their round of 16 bouts.

Abdelmottaleb went down 11-0 to Geno Petriashvili of Georgia, while Berrahal lost 6-0 to Egzon Shala of Kosovo.

The results came a day after Egyptian wrestler Mohamed Ibrahim Elsayed won a bronze medal in the men’s Greco-Roman 67 kg event after beating Artrem Surkov of the Russian Olympic Committee at Makuhari Messe Hall.

Elsayed’s compatriot Mohamed Metwally had fallen just short of success, losing his own 87 kg bronze medal match 8-1 to the German Denis Kudla.

New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal

New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal
Updated 24 min 18 sec ago

New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal

New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal
  • Yasser Mohamed Triki finishes fifth with a jump of 17.43, just 4 cm behind the bronze medal winner

A supreme effort by Algerian Yasser Mohamed Triki saw him fall 4cm outside the medal places in the men’s triple jump competition at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Thursday morning.

A jump of 17.43m — a new Algerian record — saw him finish fifth, behind new champion Pedro Pichardo of Portugal (17.98), silver medalist Yaming Zhu of China (17.57), bronze medal winner Hugues Fabrice Zango of Burkina Faso (17.47), and the American Will Claye, who finished in fourth just 1cm ahead of Triki.

The 24-year-old Triki had finished third with a jump of 17.05 in the qualifying round on Tuesday to book his place in this morning’s final.

His career-best performances came at the 2019 African Games in Rabat, where he won gold in the long jump and silver in the triple jump.

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani
Updated 04 August 2021

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

DUBAI: Two female judokas, one mat, one Olympic contest. That the two athletes competing, Tahani Al-Qahtani and Raz Hershko, happened to be from Saudi Arabia and Israel, made the recent first round of the women’s judo 78-kilogram-class meeting at Tokyo 2020 more than just an ordinary bout.

The two countries have no formal relations and no history of sporting competition to speak of. Furthermore, regional politics and boycotts movements have made it a norm that Arab athletes refuse to take part in any match opposite an Israeli counterpart in fear that this might be interpreted as a form of recognition.

This is why, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, Israeli judoka Hershko had made it a point to praise the bravery of Al-Qahtani. Not only did the Saudi judoka defy popular calls by hatemongers to boycott the match, but she participated knowing very well that Hershko has far more international experience and was clearly the likely winner.

The 23-year-old Israeli said: “I think it is amazing that we both put politics aside to do something we love. I was super excited that anything can happen at the Olympics.

“I knew it was rare for an (Arab) to accept to fight like this, but I was so excited when she accepted. Both of us put politics to the side and did what we loved together in the match.”

Algerian Fethi Nourine and Sudan’s Mohammed Abdalrasool had withdrawn from the judo men’s plus-73-kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete. But Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Hershko, a decision that drew praise from Japanese media and prompted a wave of support from high-profile figures and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qahtani was the last of the Kingdom’s 33 athletes to confirm her place at Tokyo 2020, her wild card selection making her only the second female judoka from the country to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Games. The two women had walked out side-by-side onto the mat ahead of what turned out to be a tough match for the inexperienced 22-year-old Saudi. As the fight progressed, Hershko racked up the points, eventually beating Al-Qahtani 11-0.

“It was a tough fight in the beginning. She (Al-Qahtani) was brave to take on the fight despite pressure from hatemongers about her decision to fight me,” Hershko added. The victor pointed out that she and Al-Qahtani were simply human beings, females from different countries, playing in a match. “I don’t think it was different from fighting someone from the US or South Africa. It was great that Al-Qahtani bravely accepted and let politics stay out of the picture.”

After Al-Qahtani’s loss, some questioned whether the pressure of the situation had affected her performance.

While Al-Qahtani was not available for comment, Hershko noted the importance of the match and how sport could be a uniting force at a time when politics in the Middle East continued to be a hot topic, even after several countries had normalized relations with Israel.

“Politics has nothing to do with it, it was a good match,” said Hershko.

In a statement after the bout, the International Judo Federation said: “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Al-Qahtani’s courageous performance on and off the judo mat demonstrated a notable shift in Saudi Arabia, and an openness to rise above current geopolitics in the realm of sports and culture, both avenues that could bring people from opposing nations together.

On whether she would accept an invitation to compete in Saudi Arabia, Hershko said: “Of course, why not?”

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
Updated 04 August 2021

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
  • Duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan are now on a five-match winning streak ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Russian Olympic Committee team

TOKYO: Qatar has reached the Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball men’s semifinal after beating Italy in straight sets at Shiokaze Park on Wednesday evening.
The Qatari duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan put on an impressive display to defeat the Italian team of Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) in the quarterfinal.
The Qatari athletes, both 26, will now take on Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Thursday afternoon (from 4pm KSA).
On Sunday, Younousse and Tijan defeated the US 2-1 (14-21, 21-19,15-11) in the round of 16 to reach today’s last-eight match.
Qatar’s beach volleyball team is now on a five-match winning streak at Tokyo 2020.
The started their Olympic campaign on July 25 by beating Switzerland 2-1 (21-17, 21-16) in their preliminary round — Group C match.
They followed that up with two more group victories; a 2-1 win over Italy three days later, and a 2-0 against the US last Friday.

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
Updated 04 August 2021

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
  • Total score of 424 was enough to see 27-year-old finish behind Lasha Talakhadze, Ali Davoudi
  • Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition

RIYADH: Syrian weightlifter Man Asaad on Wednesday picked up an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s plus-109-kilogram competition at the Tokyo International Forum.

The 27-year-old posted a 190 in the snatch category and followed that with a clean and jerk best of 234, for a total of 424.

Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia won gold with a new Olympic and world record 488, while silver medal winner Ali Davoudi of Iran managed a score of 441.

Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition, while his best performance at an international tournament remains a silver in the 109kg at the 2020 Asian Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, when he managed to total 433.