Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

‘I haven't been this happy since Istanbul’: Liverpool fans celebrate ‘Salah our son’

Cairo erupts as Mo Salah's penalty sees Liverpool win the Champions League

The last time Liverpool won the Uefa Champions League in 2005 against AC Milan, Said Fathy was 23.

“I have never been as happy since Andriy Shevchenko's penalty was saved by Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, and we won in Istanbul,” a tearful Mr Fathy recalls as he celebrates Divock Origi’s strike on Saturday night, which sealed Liverpool's latest win of the European showpiece silverware.

The team took the coveted title with a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the Madrid final.

Puffing from his Shisha and sipping Turkish coffee more than 4,500 kilometres away in Cairo, Mr Fathy, a web developer, compares 2005 to 2019.

“Then no one cared about Liverpool. Very few people rooted for the reds. Now it’s like Egypt is playing,” he said.

For the last two years, the English club has found a lot of Egyptian supporters since homegrown player Mohamed Salah joined the side.

In one of Imbaba’s biggest cafes, a poster of Salah, dubbed “Pride of the Arabs”, sits between a picture of Neymar and a poster of the cafe's owner.

"We had our iftar in the cafe to reserve seats. We got our food and water and sat down to watch Salah our son," says computer engineer Mohammed Awad.

Salah does not disappoint, too, scoring a second-minute penalty. The strike triggers loud cheering in the cafe, to the extent that worshippers in the nearby mosque come out to complain. But fans calm the worshippers and ask them to "pray for Abu Mekka [Salah]".

Despite their win, Mr Awad is critical of Liverpool’s performance, and thinks that Tottenham played better.

“But that is football. We lost several titles this year, but this is the favourite and most prestigious cup,” the ecstatic fan says.

In Mohandessin, cafes were packed, overflowing into to the streets leading to congestion.

"First 10 minutes and we ran out of Shisha," Hamda, a waiter in the cafe, says. "In Ramadan, people usually start to come down from 9pm. Today they all came from 8. It's a full house."

In one of the cafes, Mansour Ali, a 32-year-old copywriter, delayed the taraweeh prayer for the game.

"I know that these are the last 10 days of Ramadan, but it's Liverpool," he says.

“Liverpool fans saw a lot of bitter moments. I remember sitting in the cafe alone in the winter watching us playing against Manchester City, and people wanted to turn the channel over to watch Real Madrid,” he adds.

Now Liverpool games are as important and popular as a Cairo derby between Al Ahly and Zamalek.

“Klopp came and gave hope to the fans. He trusted the new and young players and gave them confidence,” Mr Ali adds.

Sarah Sherif, a 26-year-old bank employee, seconds that.

“We should really learn a lot from the relation of Salah and Klopp, and how a manager can bring out the best of an employee. Klopp defended and pushed Salah to do his best," she said.

While Mr Ali skipped prayers, others take a break from work to watch the game. Abdel Azim, an Uber scooter driver, declined all requests during the match.

“There was a high surge, but I won’t miss the match,” he said.

“We all love Salah. He is an example of a young and simple Egyptian man who had little and turned it into something great,” AbdelAzim says. “That is why kids love him.”

Others joked that Klopp should give Salah a break to enable him to get ready for the Africa Cup of Nations this month, where Egypt face DR Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe in the group stage.

“That is it, Klopp. The king has done the job. Leave him to rest. We have a tournament to win,” Mohamed Ashraf adds with a smile.

Updated: June 2, 2019 05:46 PM

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