Mohamed Salah sets the Premier standard for Arab stars

Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah scores their fourth goal, his third, from the penalty spot during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Leeds United at Anfield in Liverpool. (AFP)
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Updated 14 September 2020

Mohamed Salah sets the Premier standard for Arab stars

  • Mohamed Salah’s opening day hat-trick did not just give Liverpool a thrilling 4-3 win over Leeds United at Anfield on Saturday, it set the standard for fellow Arab stars

LONDON: Mohamed Salah’s opening day hat-trick did not just give Liverpool a thrilling 4-3 win over Leeds United at Anfield on Saturday, it set the standard for fellow Arab stars, such as Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, to follow for the rest of the English Premier League season.

Salah’s three strikes meant that he became the second-fastest player in the competition’s history to reach 50 goals at home, with only Alan Shearer making his half-century faster; needing 47 games to the Egyptian’s 63. Salah also became the first player to score in the opening fixture of four consecutive Premier League seasons while playing for the same club.

“He’s a very special player, a very very special player,” said relieved Liverpool coach, Jurgen Klopp. “He put three more goals on his score list but the performance around was absolutely exceptional in a game like this. He caused the opponent massive problems. With all the good performances Mo had for us obviously, this was, for sure, one of the better ones. Long may it continue.”

It will. As well as his German boss, fans of the English Premier League around the world have grown accustomed to Salah’s brilliance and consistency, but it is now time for Ziyech to show what he can do at Chelsea, once the winger recovers from a knock.

It may be difficult for Ziyech, or anyone else for that matter, to match Salah’s exploits in England, but the Moroccan’s first target has to be on doing something that even the Egyptian could not do — be a success at Chelsea.

Salah joined the London team from Swiss side FC Basel in January 2014, and made just 13 Premier League appearances for the Blues before moving to Fiorentina in Italy on loan just 13 months later.

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READ MORE: Mohamed Salah stands alone as the greatest Arab footballer of all

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Ziyech has already impressed at Stamford Bridge, however. He shone for Dutch team Ajax during last season’s UEFA Champions League’s 4-4 draw, convincing Chelsea boss Frank Lampard that he had the quality to perform in England.

In February he agreed to head to London at the end of the season in a deal reported to be worth around $50 million. Ziyech may miss Chelsea’s opening fixture against Brighton and Hove Albion on Monday, but is expected to feature soon.

Like most players who come out of Ajax, the Moroccan loves to attack. “He has the ability to make and score goals,” said Lampard. “He has the quality we have sometimes been missing with the final pass and also taking chances. He ticks lots of boxes.”

Chelsea have been the biggest spenders in Europe so far this summer, and there is pressure on the team, which finished fourth last season, to mount a serious challenge for the title.

If Ziyech can inspire the Blues to the championship, then the top three Arab players in England will all have a winner’s medal.

Salah helped Liverpool to the title last season, while Algeria’s biggest star, Mahrez, is one of a select group of players to win the Premier League with two different clubs: Leicester City in 2016 and Manchester City three years later.

The winger was one of the best performers last season for Pep Guardiola. But despite 11 goals and nine assists, Mahrez and the star-studded team had to watch a dominant Liverpool take the trophy.

It means that City are hungrier than ever this time around.

The Algerian’s pre-season has been an interesting one. In early September, the 29-year-old tested positive for coronavirus and is currently self-isolating. Not only that, but he has been linked with a move to Spanish champions, Real Madrid.

City will not want to lose one of the league’s premier attacking talents. Salah has also been linked with Barcelona, and Liverpool will fight hard to prevent any move for the Egyptian.

The early action from the 2020-21 English Premier League season shows they need him.

Leeds have demonstrated that, of the promoted teams, they are the least likely to sit back and lie down. Arsenal started strongly with a comfortable 3-0 win over Fulham, while Newcastle United picked up a valuable 2-0 victory at West Ham United.

On Sunday, Mahrez’s former attacking partner Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester defeated West Bromwich Albion 3-0, while Tottenham Hotspur lost 1-0 at home to Everton, thanks to a second half goal from Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The opening weekend belonged, however, to Salah, and it leaves the likes of Mahrez and Ziyech with much to live up to.


Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

Updated 28 September 2020

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

  • Hadi Souan scooped silver in Sydney at 29; athlete says success was for whole nation

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first Olympic medal win 20 years ago inspired a generation of athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport, according to the president of the Kingdom’s Olympic committee.

Hadi Souan won silver in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Games in 2000.

The accomplishment was one of many in a long and successful journey for the athlete, who became a board member of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation (SAAF), the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) Assembly, a member of the Olympic Council of Asia Athlete Commission, sports and events manager at Qiddiya Investment Company, a member of the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center, and a member of the SAOC’s International Relations Committee.

“Today we celebrate Souan’s achievement, which inspired a generation of Saudi athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport in the Kingdom,” said the SAOC’s president, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. “It gives me great pleasure to see sport thriving in Saudi Arabia. We are committed to ensuring that this trend continues and that the Kingdom’s next generation enjoys the benefits of participating in sport, both in Saudi Arabia and at major global sporting events.”

Souan started out as a footballer but took up athletics in PE class, winning second place in a school championship. He qualified to compete at the Kingdom level and went on to become a national team member in less than a year.

He started with the high jump, then decathlon and finally found himself taking on the 400m hurdles.

He trained under Egyptian coach Mohammed Thu Alfaqqar from 1991, under the Americans until 1994, and under 1968 Olympic gold medalist Lee Evans. But the best place Souan remembers training at was UCLA.

“It is a sport and artistic society indeed,” he said. “We spoke, ate, slept, and even relaxed for sport. These little things and the different sleeping habits here and there made me suffer a bit when I came back from the States, but we got used to it and I knew it made a difference in my lifestyle and mentality-wise.”

Souan also trained the European way in Paris under a Russian coach and France’s Amadou Dia Ba. “Hence I started to learn the difference between European and American schools,” he added. The US schools concentrated on endurance, while the French focused on speed.

He was grateful for the exposure to different cultures while training abroad with elite athletes, especially at a time when there was limited social awareness about the importance of sport.

“When I started training with US 400m hurdler Kevin Young, who clocked an Olympic record of 46.78 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Games and which remains unbeaten until now, I felt that I could do what he is doing. I only need to be determined, disciplined, and committed and everything from there started to become imaginable. I started to see myself winning and when the time came and toward the end of the race I knew I was getting there but I wasn’t first. First place went to American Angelo Taylor who won in 47.50 seconds, while I did 47.53.”

He remembers the winning moment and never expected how the country would react to his achievement. It was overwhelming. 

He modestly said it was not his success alone, that it was a success for the whole nation and all of his team headed by the former SAAF president Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, agent Emanuel Hudson, and coach John Smith. They all worked hard to create the right environment for him to deliver the medals.

“We were welcomed by the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, by the former president of General Presidency of Youth Welfare Prince Sultan bin Fahd, and everyone was happy and proud of what we did. I knew then that what I was fortunate to do was not simple at all and, luckily, was appreciated. I believe everyone started to look up for Saudis in athletics and watch out for similar future talents.”

The beauty of sport, he added, was its spirit and the values that were learned and developed through years of training, competing, winning and losing. 

“Although Taylor won first place we all, as a sports community, remain friends and also competed afterwards in several matches where he again took first place and I came second again. He came from a distance running race which allowed him to master his skills at the end of the 400m hurdles events, his approach was and still is just amazing.”

Souan won the silver medal aged 29 at his second Olympic appearance, in what he felt was perfect timing as he might not have been as successful at subsequent Games.

“Usually when you get to taste that level of achievement on a global scale you want more, but I knew that it was time to give back now and help my teammate and younger generations taste it at an early age.”

That’s how I got involved in the athletics federation and the Sports Ministry afterwards.”

He said that it did not matter how someone was built, as long as they had the willpower to work on their body and skills in order to become the best they could be in the sport that they liked. He added that parents had greater awareness, as did athletes, and wished that more Saudis could do what he could not.

Although Souan retired as an athlete at the age of 34, after competing in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, he was and still is a role model who keeps giving back to his country. Because of his passion for sports he was a physical education teacher and then supervisor at the Ministry of Education. 

“I always felt responsible to keep my record clean because I’ve seen how parents and students used to look up to me so, as an Olympian, I wanted to give a good example.”

In addition to the Olympic silver medal he won, with an Asian record of 47.53 seconds, Souan counts the 2001 Goodwill Games hurdles silver from Brisbane as his most prized possession. 

All told Souan has won 40 gold medals including one from the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.