Liverpool’s record-breaking striker Mohamed Salah has established himself not only as one of the most lethal finishers in football but also as an inspiration for young Arabs hoping to reach Europe’s top leagues.
The 25-year-old Egyptian has gained worldwide recognition while not forgetting his roots. He has paid for a new football pitch in the small farming of village of Nagrig where he grew up, as well as a school, a hospital and a youth centre. Offered a luxury villa by a businessman as a reward for scoring Egypt’s winning goal against Congo in the World Cup qualifiers, he asked for the money to be donated to his village instead.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to see someone from my culture doing well and opening doors for other athletes to be given a level playing field and a chance to shine,” said Hafed Aldroubi, 23, a British-Iraqi goalkeeper from Sutton United, a club in the National League, who is currently on loan at Chesham United.
Salah scored 44 goals in 51 games in his debut campaign for Liverpool, including 32 in the Premier League that won him the golden boot for the highest scorer of the 2017-18 season. Last week the Football Writers' Association declared him Footballer of the Year, and next month he will lead the Egyptian team in its first World Cup finals appearance in 28 years.
"Mohamed has impacted the football community so much that I believe he's given Arabs and ethnic minorities a chance in England without having to deal with issues such as pre-judgment and prejudice," Aldroubi told The National.
At a time when the UK is seeing rising Islamophobia and government policy has been to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, Salah's public display of his faith have made him a figure of considerable social significance.
He inspired a football chant that was sung by Liverpool fans around the country
“If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too — that’s what they said. At first I was shocked to hear it but it portrays tolerance and inclusion, which is what Islam is all about,” Aldroubi said.
The chant has spawned endless YouTube videos, many scoring more than a million views.
Salah's mass following has been praised by Muslim leaders and organisations such as Faith Matters for knocking down the fear of Muslims in Europe.
Saudi Arabia granted the footballer a plot of land in Mecca, a recognition of his role as an inspiration to Muslims and Arabs all over the world, and the British Museum has put his green football boots on display as part of its Modern Egypt exhibition.
Aldroubi hopes Salah's accomplishments put pressure on England's Football Association to ensure that "players such as Mohamed and myself are protected from being mistreated".
"Mo has become the golden boy that has can help kick racism out of sport," he said.
Incidents of discrimination are on the rise, according to the Kick It Out campaign against racism in English football.
The campaign received 282 complaints relating to incidents during matches and on social media during the 2017-18 season, an increase of 59 per cent from the previous year.
“As a goalkeeper it’s easier to listen to some of the things the fans say, especially when the ball is not near, so I usually hear racist remarks from the other side, but I don’t let it get to me,” Aldroubi said.
The young goalkeeper is rising through the ranks in English football after playing in America's Major League Soccer and a brief spell at the Turkish club Besiktas.
“Football means the world to me because everything I know in life is owed to playing football or being involved in the game in some capacity,” he said.