'Mohamed Salah? He's in my bag' - Al Ittihad fans confident of signing Liverpool star

Supporters in Jeddah certain that Egypt legend will be club's next big signing

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has been the subject of intense interest from SPL club Al Ittihad. AP
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A couple of hours out from Al Ittihad’s showpiece Saudi Pro League match with Al Hilal, and the home club’s supporters around Prince Abdullah bin Faisal Stadium seem pretty confident Mohamed Salah will soon be joining them and their team in the kingdom.

“For sure, 100 per cent,” Ruwan Rajah tells the National, with commendable certainty, Ittihad scarf draped around her neck. “Because there is Neymar, [Karim] Benzema, [Cristiano] Ronaldo - Saudi is doing very well. Ronaldo is such a dream for Saudi fans, right?

“So why don’t we have an Arabic player? Why? Mohamed Salah will happen. I have him in my bag.”

Rajah, who delivers the last line with a laugh, isn’t put off by Liverpool’s reported rejection on Friday of a hugely lucrative offer for Salah, which made worldwide news not long before Ittihad hosted Al Hilal in the Saudi Pro League match billed as the country’s “Clasico”.

Liverpool are alleged to have said no to a verbal proposal from Saudi worth up to £150 million ($188.9m). The European transfer window closed at 1am Saudi time on Saturday morning, but it's worth remembering the SPL window remains open until next Thursday.

Still, the ticking clock hasn’t dampened Rajah’s spirits.

“Oh my goodness, such a beautiful player,” she says of Salah, her twin sister nodding along beside her. “I’m sure he will come. And I will just keep coming here again and again if Salah is here.”

According to Abdulrahman Al Hamali, a member of the Saudi champions' "Ultras" hardcore supporter group, the deal is done.

“Everything is finished,” he says. “The news that they’re talking about is nothing. Maybe tomorrow, after tonight’s match, it will be done. Money will make it happen. Money makes everything happen.”

A lifelong Ittihad supporter and current industrial-engineering student, Al Hamali struggles to put into words what it would mean if Salah was to join his team, who already boast current Ballon d'Or holder Benzema.

And that, he says, would have serious implications on Ittihad’s appearance as host in the Fifa Club World Cup in Jeddah in December.

“It would mean a huge thing,” Al Hamali says. “He will do big things. All the world will look at us. Benzema and Salah together: maybe we will take the Club World Cup. If Mohamed Salah is there, we will.”

A fan, wearing a tiger mask – Ittihad are nicknamed “The Tigers” – who goes simply as Hermas, which apparently translates to “Son of the Tiger", dreams of having one more of the world’s finest footballers representing his club.

“Of course, it is an amazing deal,” the self-styled social-media influencer says. “He is a world-class player; he plays for Liverpool; he wins with them the Premier League, the Champions League.

“So, of course, if it happens, it will be a fantastic deal for us. So inshallah, Mo Salah will continue in Saudi Arabia.”

Then looking down at his watch, Hermas adds: “We are on the [transfer window] deadline, so I hope Liverpool sell Salah for Ittihad and he will play with us in the next match. Actually, I have some news that Salah is officially a player of Ittihad. I don’t know if it’s just rumours or is actual. I don’t know, but I wish.”

As one of the most recognisable Muslim stars in the world – Salah has 62 million followers on Instagram alone – the Egypt star's appeal to Ittihad and the burgeoning Saudi Pro League is obvious.

“It will be an amazing thing because Mohamed Salah, he is Egyptian,” Hermas says. "So here in the Saudi league, an Egyptian player with a Saudi team, it will be incredible. Egyptian fans already love us as Ittihad, but they will watch us even more.

“I hope and I pray that Salah will come to Al Ittihad.”

Aseel Al Amri, another boyhood fan of the nine-time Saudi champions who works at present in the auto-trade market, echoes Hermas' sentiments. Maybe those of Ittihad’s entire fanbase.

“I think he is coming, I really do,” Al Amri says. “Because the Saudi league is now becoming the biggest in the world. Lots of stars have come before Mohamed Salah, like Cristiano, like [Sadio] Mane. I think Salah is thinking about this. I think it will be a top five league in the world.

“It would mean a lot to have a Muslim player like him. We need it, but we need Mohamed Salah also because Ittihad doesn’t have wingers. We need him, absolutely. And because he is Muslim, so it’s easier for him to come.”

Yet, asked if there remains still time to do the deal this window, Al Amri sounds a little more circumspect than his peers.

“I think next summer,” he says, almost regrettably, before smiling wide. “But I hope he comes now.”

Updated: September 02, 2023, 8:26 PM