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The grace and magic that makes Mohamed Salah the world’s best

The Egyptian footballer, dubbed The Egyptian King by Liverpudlians, is a fine man and even finer player, writes ROB HUGHES

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool caps a twisting run with a magical goal against Watford. Photo: Andrew Powell/ Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Mohamed Salah put his foot on the ball, and one Watford defender fell bottom up onto the turf. Two other opponents within touching distance were set off in the wrong direction, like drunken sailors. Finally, with sweet delicacy, Salah finished what he started by curling the ball deftly inside the far post.

A routine piece of magic – the second in successive games after his strike against Manchester City – by the Egyptian it is legitimate to regard as the finest among 250 million registered players in the world. Yes, that is a considered opinion.

Yes, had anyone suggested during the last decade and a half that someone other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo was the best on earth the judgement would have been seriously doubted. It is unprecedented, but I think true, for two players to have outshone all the rest over such a sustained period.

Yet time moves on, and geniuses age. Not simply for his courage with the ball, for his grace and movement and sorcery, but for his ability to constantly score and create goals out of thin air, Salah is now the star turn not just for Liverpool, not just in Europe, but in the world.

There is very little hyperbole in that. Liverpudlians call him The Egyptian King, and his own countrymen flock to cafes day or night, even during Ramadan, to watch on screen the most gifted magician their country has produced in 400 years that they claim football of sorts has been played on the banks of the Nile.

Egypt may link the Middle East with northeast Africa, but FIFA designates it as Africa. So we can acknowledge that as of the last few weeks there are now three Africans who have scored a hundred league goals in the most competitive league on the planet. Ivorian Didier Drogba did it in Chelsea blue six seasons ago, and now not only Mo Salah but also his Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mané have followed suit.

Indeed, in each of the last two games, Salah stroked the passes that provided goals for Mané before producing his solo masterpieces against City and Watford. So much for the critics who swear there is professional jealousy between the Egyptian and the Senegalese on either wing of Liverpool.

It takes a degree of singlemindedness, perhaps selfishness, to score so regularly for so long. And it is the task of the manager, in this case Jurgen Klopp who was a defender in his playing days, to blend the personalities in his team.

Too lenient a coach, and players take advantage. Too heavy and they resent the manager or lose some of their spark. And, sticking with just the attacking players Klopp has, here is another element of his man-management: His two main strikers, Salah and Mané, are Muslim and Christian. Their third partner is either Roberto Firmino (Brazilian) or Diogo Jota (Portuguese), both Christian. And their reserves are Divock Origi (Belgian of Kenyan heritage) and Takumi Minamino (Japanese and Buddhist). Klopp himself converted to the Lutheran Protestant church some years ago. No wonder there is a multi-faith prayer room at the Liverpool training camp.

The players show their religious faith often in their moments of celebration, and some will confess that they turn to God when injuries and self-doubt creep in. What else motivates them? Family, and money, of course. When Ramy Abbas Issa, Salah’s lawyer and advisor flew to watch the Watford game there was speculation that his purpose was to push Liverpool’s American owners to negotiate a new weekly wage for his client – from £200,000 per week to (the media are guessing) £500,000.

Real Madrid want him, and which of the richest clubs of Europe would not, given his goals and the joy that Salah provides with such regularity? Then there is the apparent good manners, the family man and team man image he projects.

The clubs have made this rod for their own backs. In Salah’s case, they throw offers at his feet not just for his performance record but the reported half a million Facebook followers he inspires around the globe. There are wall murals from Cairo to New York and obviously Liverpool. And while this father of two infant girls also funds a hospital, paying for an ambulance unit and for oxygen in his impoverished home town of Nagrig in northern Egypt, he was also sought out by Prince William to present one of the inaugural Earthshot Prizes in London last Sunday, a day after his latest spectacular goal.

Star of Liverpool, captain of his country, at 29 at the peak of his powers this is a player who captures that apparently contrary cocktail of swaggering confidence on the pitch with humility off it. Marcus Rashford has no monopoly on that precious amalgam.

There are those, predominantly Americans who would reduce everything that moves to statistics. In Salah’s world the goals of course count, but for many of us what is captivating is the grace with which he moves and the manner he carries off his public duties.

Fine player, fine man.

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