LONDON: Egyptian Mohammed Salah became the first non-European or Latin American since 1995 to be officially named one the world’s top three male footballers. And FIFA documents show the Liverpool forward did so, surprisingly, without substantial support from the Arab region.
At FIFA's annual The Best Awards in London on Monday night, Salah finished behind Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Best Men’s Player category. Voted for by international coaches, captains, media and fans, Salah became the first player of non-European or Latin American origin since Liberia's George Weah won the Ballon d'Or 23 years ago to be officially recognised among the top three in the world.
In a quest for transparency, football’s governing body releases a breakdown of voting by the captains, coaches and media. Figures show that while Croatian Modric attracted 29.05 per cent of votes and Ronaldo, the midfielder's former teammate at Real Madrid, garnered 19.08 per cent, just 11.23 per cent of respondents elected Salah, placing him narrowly ahead of fourth-placed Kylian Mbappe with 10.52 per cent.
Michel Salgado, the former Real Madrid defender, lives in Dubai and is now an assistant coach of Javier Aguirre with the Egypt national team. He was understandably torn ahead of the announcement ceremony as to who he would like to see win, but was under no illusions as to which player has had the most global impact this past year.
“Salah is a player from the Arab World, the Middle East, and is representing the Muslim world,” Salgado told Arab News. “Now he is a role model for everyone in the Arab World. Even my kid — he is Spanish, but he is in a school with a lot of Egyptians and Arab kids and now his idol is Mohamed Salah. I don't remember something like that happening in the past."
While Salah represents the first Middle East player to be shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or, looking specifically at the voting of the Arab nations, he might have hoped for better support from the region’s decision-makers. Of the 22 Arab League nations, only Djibouti did not partake in the voting process, while neither captain nor coach of Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia and Yemen posted their votes.
Of the others, however, only Egypt voted for Salah in first place across the board, with captain Essam El-Hadary, new coach Javier Aguirre of Mexico, and journalist Hany Danial all selecting the Pharaohs’ star. In fact, Aguirre aside, only four of the other 20 national team coaches selected Salah as one of the world’s top three players, with Bahrain’s Miroslav Soukup the unique coach who marked the Egyptian as his top pick.
Saudi coach Juan Antonio Pizzi voted for Messi, Modric and Antoine Griezmann.
“It's very important for the world of football to have a player like Salah," said Salgado. "I think it's important we do not only have Cristiano and [Lionel] Messi and players coming from European or South American backgrounds. It's important we have players being up for awards and coming from different backgrounds such as Egypt. That's my belief.”
National team captains were more supportive of Salah, with 10 of the 21 — including Saudi’s Osama Hawsawi — voting for the Egyptian, although only Ba Abdoul of Mauritania and Syria’s Omar Al-Soma elected him as the best overall. Green Falcons’ captain Hawsawi selected Ronaldo and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne ahead of the Liverpool star.