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Salah, no more smiling
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 28 - 06 - 2018

The Egyptian international and Liverpool winger Mohamed Salah won the Man of the Match Award in his last game with the Pharaohs against Saudi Arabia in the 2018 World Cup. But, despite being the only Egyptian to score in the 21st edition, Salah's memories of the World Cup in Russia will not be very nice, given the problems he found himself in because of his team and the Egyptian Football Association.
It has been a tough two weeks for the 26-year-old Salah whose participation with the Pharaohs only brought him sorrow and grief. Due to his incomplete recovery from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final, Salah missed his team's first match against Uruguay. Sitting on the bench, he had pleaded several times with the head coach Hector Cuper to put him into the game but his request was denied. According to Cuper, he didn't want to risk the player's injury because they needed him for the next games.
In the next game against Russia, Salah did his best, despite his injury, but he was cautious for fear of any sudden contact that would affect his full recovery. And despite scoring a goal from a penalty, he was still blamed for not giving his usual 100 per cent. Losing that match 3-1 to the hosts had, mentally, devastated the player with all hopes dashed for a berth in the second round. He fell into what could be described as a depression and it became clear to everyone how he had preferred to be left alone. He was pictured in the training sessions before the last match against Saudi Arabia but he was seclusion from the team and the head coach with whom, he seemed, had had a falling out.
In another controversy Salah reluctantly joined the team delegation to a dinner banquet held by President of Chechnya Ramzan Kodyrov. As the superstar of the team, Salah was seated to the right of the head of the state and EFA President Hani Abu Rida to the left. Pictures also showed the player feeling uncomfortable and was taken aback when Kodyrov, accused by the international community of being anti-human rights, decorating him with an ‘honorary citizen' of the State of Chechnya. Though taken by surprise and bewildered, Salah accepted the decoration grudgingly. But, the world didn't take it easily. The international media were harsh on Salah as well as the EFA which was bashed for selecting Grozny as their team-based camp and as Kodyrov's guest in the hotel.
Salah was silent and his despair seemed to grow worse, especially with other rumours swirling around the team in their camp and their lack of concentration as the media, particularly the British, continued digging around the Egyptians staying in Grozny, and Salah. His international career was at stake with CNN quoting a Liverpool source claiming the player was seriously thinking of quitting playing for the Pharaohs in the future.
An EFA statement said Salah was training with the team in preparation for the Saudi Arabia match and that he hadn't informed them about anything regarding leaving and that they only consider what the player writes on his official Twitter account. But with the player remaining silent and no statements issued from his side either confirming or denying the news on his official account, it was clear to everyone the dilemma the player was facing.
The national and world media, as well as fans all over the world, criticised Egyptian officials and accused the EFA of putting Salah through the ordeal and that they used him for political purposes. This is what the player and his agent also apparently believed, that the EFA had, in many occasions used his fame and popularity for their own interests which had led to several disputes with sponsors, months before the World Cup began.
Salah remained silent and obviously unhappy as he took to the pitch in his final match with the Pharaohs against the Kingdom. He opened the scoring on 22 minutes with a solo effort, missed a clear sitter moments later and fought for the rest of the game, but couldn't lead Egypt to victory on his own. Some appreciation came when he was named man of the match.
During all of his travails with the Pharaohs, fans all over the world, not only Egyptians, felt sorry for the player, ached for him as they noticed his usual smile had gone, even after scoring against Russia and Saudi Arabia. Some wept for him while listening to him defending his team and apologising to the fans in a post-match flash interview.
“I thank Egyptian fans for supporting us during the World Cup,” Salah told beIN Sports after the game. “I know it is hard and difficult for them but it is also hard for us.”
He explained that Egypt was playing in the World Cup after a 28-year absence and that the players lacked the experience. “Egyptian players have no experience in the World Cup. The players did their best and I am sure that the future will be better.”
Meanwhile, the player remains largely silent and his future with the Pharaohs remains uncertain.


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