When Mo Salah, GQ’s Man of The Year 2019, walks onto the football pitch he carries with him not just his own expectations but those of his 97 million countrymen. Like Ronaldo and Messi he is a talismanic presence in his national team, willing them, almost single-handedly, on to victory. If he’s feeling the pressure, he isn’t letting it show.
Football is, now and forever, a results business: win and you’re a tabloid darling, lose and online vilification is as swift as it is merciless. But even by his standards, the past season has been transcedent. A hat-trick to take Liverpool to the top of Premier League; a sublime solo effort to slay Napoli and ensure his club went on to the Champions League final where he scored one of the two goals that won it for Liverpool, winning the BBC African Footballer of the Year award for second year running. Life is good. Mo Salah is happy.
Stories of the obstacles the young Salah had to overcome as a youth player are already legend. Four hours on buses and cars to get to training, and then a similar return journey in the early hours of the morning for the exhausted teenager.
“All my dreams and goals were to become a well-known professional, but I couldn’t imagine I’d reach the level I’m at now,” the 27-year-old says. “Every kid dreams of being on television, but then when I first made it, my targets changed. I wanted to become a professional abroad, and after that I wanted to be the best.”
The fiercely ambitious Salah that the world has fallen in love with is, in every way, a product of those early days at Basyoun, Tanta and finally Al Mokawoloon, where an embryonic career began to take shape in 2008. At 16, Salah was offered the chance to sign a contract with the club. It was the moment that changed his young life.
“In that period, I decided that I must become a professional footballer,” he says. “It was an opportunity I wasn’t going to waste. That was one of my first big decisions: don’t let this slip from your hands.”
Salah is living proof of the power of positive thinking: “If you don’t try then you will always stay at home. I’m not belittling that at all, if that’s what you want, then that’s okay too.”
Mohamed Salah is our Man of The Year 2019.