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Mo Salah was 14 when he set out on the bumpy road to stardom.
After soaking up the adulation of the Kop and admiration of a worldwide TV audience on Tuesday night the Liverpool forward’s single-minded journey from young dreamer to superstar can be revealed.
The determined teenager used to travel 10 hours a day, five days a week, making the return bus journey from his small village Nagrig on the pot-holed road to Cairo to train with El Mokawloon, also known as Arab Contractors.
And when he finally arrived he would train before rushing to catch the bus home immediately after the session so barely had chance to make any friends in the team.
Salah was so determined to follow in the footsteps of some of Africa’s great players he would mostly keep the money that was meant for his food at Mohamed Ayyad Al-Tantawy school and use it to pay for his daily trips to Cairo.
“He was very little and most of the boys would refer to him as Hadi or the village boy when he first came in,” said his first coach at El Mokawloon, Mohammed Radwan.
“The negative feeling he had then would be the fuel he needed to drive him.
“You would tell him to do something and all he kept on saying at that time was, ‘Thank you, coach’.”
Being mocked by schoolmates and considered the third-choice left-back would have been a good excuse to cut short the tiring daily trips to Cairo.
But Salah refused to give up, recalling: “I was having to leave school early to travel to training. I would go in from 7am until 9am and then I had an official paper to give to my school to say, ‘Mo can leave school early so he can reach the club at 2pm to train’.
“If you don’t have a good excuse it was always going to be difficult to leave school but I wanted to be a big footballer so I had to find an excuse. So I guess that was the price I had to pay and believe me, maybe if it did not work, things would not have been good for me.”
There are several contributing factors to the growth of a footballer from Africa, the advice from relatives, the motivation of national heroes and the desire to escape crushing poverty.
For Salah it was the desire to put a smile on the face of his father Alah Ghali, who never doubted his ability and wanted him to pursue his footballing career. There were times his father would take Salah to Cairo himself just to watch him train.
The youngster’s footballing idol was Mohammed Abu Trika, considered the best player during Egypt’s greatest generation. He won Africa Best Player of the Year four times and led his nation to two Africa Cup of Nations triumphs.
According to Salah’s Under-20s coach Diaa El-Sayed, who led the young Pharaohs to their best finish at the age-group World Cup in 2011 in Colombia, said: “For many reasons, Salah loved Abu Trika.
“He would go into training trying to pull off the skills he had been watching on video of Abu Trika and was constantly telling his team-mates that professional athletes should behave like Trika.
“I know there was the London Olympics where he did well and all that but for me, during the competition in Colombia, he showed more than enough and I knew it was just a matter of time before he exploded.”
But making the big jump from playing in the Egyptian league to playing in Europe was another challenge.
The answer would soon arrive: The London Olympic Games in 2012.
A more mature and determined Salah got the chance to play with his idol Mohammed Abu Trika and his performances caught the eye of Swiss side FC Basel.
Hany Ramzy, coach of Egypt’s Olympic team, said: “He was desperate to leave for Europe at that time but I kept on telling him that he needed to do well in the Olympic Games and through that something positive would come his way – that was the stage for Salah.
“During the competition, everything started coming together for him and he moved closer to Allah in that period. I was not surprised everything went well for him then.”
A move to Basel was the European stage Salah had always wanted and his performances were monitored by Liverpool who made an attempt to sign him before Chelsea won his signature in 2014.
The move to Stamford Bridge proved a different challenge and, as it stalled, his wife Maggi urged him to move away.
A loan move to Fiorentina in Italy was agreed while Liverpool’s sporting director Michael Edwards continued to monitor Salah’s situation.
After a successful spell in Fiorentina, Roma took Salah on loan before signing him permanently, and he went on to score 29 league goals.
By last summer Edwards had made up his mind the time was right and persuaded boss Jurgen Klopp to break the club’s transfer record when he spent £38million on the former Chelsea outcast.
He scored on his Liverpool debut at Watford, the first of 43 goals in 47 games for the club this season.
As well as a likely Champions League final appearance to come, he also has the small matter of spearheading Egypt’s World Cup challenge.
When he scored the late winner against Congo to seal qualification, Mohammed Abbas, the former
President of Zamalek, one of Egypt’s biggest clubs, offered him a mansion.
Salah’s response was one of a man who has not forgotten his roots. He asked that a donation be made to his deprived home town Nagrig.
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