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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Mohamed Salah's outburst earns him rebuke from Egypt fans

Recent spat marks departure from time when Salah criticism was unheard of as millions of Egyptians viewed him as hero

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah looks on during their Premier League match against Burnley at Anfield on Sunday. Peter Byrne /  AP Photo
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah looks on during their Premier League match against Burnley at Anfield on Sunday. Peter Byrne /  AP Photo

Mohamed Salah’s assertion this week that no Arab or African footballer has ever attained his status and his criticism of the work ethics of fellow Egyptians have kicked a storm back home among his usually adoring fans, with some accusing the Liverpool striker of arrogance and ingratitude.

Tweeting in Arabic late on Tuesday, the 26-year-old player expressed both remorse and indignation.

“I am astonished by ‘some’ people who are waiting on the wings for any mistake or comments so they can interpret them the way that suits them … It’s clear that this has both become the norm and a clear attempt to find fault with well-meaning comments and honest mistakes.”

Addressing a news conference in Liverpool on Monday, Salah contemptuously dismissed criticism of his form by fans on social media networks, saying what was being said there no longer impacted him. He acknowledged that the high expectations of him are a source of pressure since he is “the first Arab or African to reach this status and I influence a large number of people".

Abandoning his hallmark caution when speaking in public, he berated fellow Egyptians for what he described as their know-it-all attitude, alluding to social media evaluations of his form. “I have no time to pick up the phone and get on social media to see what’s going on and what is being said about me. I have outgrown this.

“We don’t much like to learn. We always claim to know everything,” he said before hastening to remind his listeners that he and his entire family are Egyptian.

"Our problem in Egypt is that we never say ‘we don’t know’ and we don’t want to reach our goals through the hard work required. We want to reach them while we are in our comfort zone. It will never work.”

Salah’s comments drew sharply contrasting reactions from fans on social media – Egypt’s main platform for free speech – with some delivering scathing criticism of the player for overstepping his boundaries, while others sprang to his defence.

In its entirety, however, the conversation marked a departure from a time not long ago when criticism of Salah was unheard of as millions of Egyptians viewed him as a national hero and an inspirational figure. Perhaps more importantly, many of Egypt’s 100 million people saw him as a precious source of joy and pride while embroiled in the bleak struggle to make ends meet under difficult economic conditions.

Mohamed Aboutrika, in action for Baniyas in 2013, was once a successful player for Egypt. Karim Jaafar / AFP
Mohamed Aboutrika, in action for Baniyas in 2013, was once a successful player for Egypt. Karim Jaafar / AFP

Significantly, the criticism came at a time when Salah, the Premier League’s best player and top scorer in the 2017/18 season, was suffering a goal drought. He has not scored in five consecutive matches, a first since he moved to Liverpool in the summer of 2017.

Some believe that goal drought has something to do with the ferocity of criticism he has been subjected to this week.

“Had he made those comments last season, fans would have applauded him for making them,” said Karim Ramzy, a sports analyst who hosts a popular TV football show.

“It has been a while since he made people happy. His comments were unfortunate, but the popular reaction was disproportionately critical,” he told The National.

Fans incensed by his comments were not so diplomatic. One reminded him that the social media users he has scorned contributed to his winning some individual prizes through their voting.

“The people whom he sees as unwilling to put in the hard work are the same people who are suffering just to survive,” tweeted one. “His comments mocked the people and betrayed a sense of superiority,” wrote another.

Many reminded him of African and Arab footballers whose track record matches or nears his. They cited the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, George Weah, the current president of Liberia who starred for AC Milan, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o and Egypt's Mohamed Aboutrika.

Fellow Egyptian Mido, centre, has defended Mohamed Salah in the face of backlash against the Liverpool star. Antonie Robertson / The National
Fellow Egyptian Mido, centre, has defended Mohamed Salah in the face of backlash against the Liverpool star. Antonie Robertson / The National

Those who defended Salah sought to shift focus to his footballing skills, reminding everyone of his relatively young age and pointing out how popular perception of the player in Egypt violently swings from “pride of the Arabs” to “who the hell does he think he is?”.

Retired Egyptian striker Ahmed Hossam Mido, whose career included stints in England and the Netherlands, counselled Egyptians to stop criticising Salah and instead enjoy his football.

Addressing the fans, he said: “What would you have done if Zlatan Ibrahimovic, considering all his provocative pronouncements, was Egyptian?” Mido wrote about the maverick Los Angeles Galaxy star and his former Ajax teammate.

Updated: March 13, 2019 08:41 PM

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