Dubai: At the beginning of June, Mohamed Salah was on top of the world as he had just helped Liverpool to claim their fifth European Cup title as they defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final in Madrid.
However, that was as good as it got this summer for the Egyptian football superstar as he was unable to carry his nation to international success in the Africa Cup of Nations that followed on home soil.
Speaking to CNN, the Premier League’s joint top-scorer last season opened up on the highs and lows of the summer months.
On June 1, at a jam-packed Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the Spanish capital, Salah sent the Liverpool fans into raptures as he gave his side the lead from the penalty spot after only two minutes in a match they went on to comfortably win 2-0.
“Honestly it was great,” Salah told Becky Anderson on CNN’s Connect the World. “It’s a dream for everyone, the city, the players, to win a Champions League, so something great and something very big. So everyone was having that moment as special, I was like feeling like a kid (whose) dream comes true.”
Once the dust had settled on the Champions League party, Salah had no time to rest as he was soon on international duty. Afcon began on June 21 in his home nation. The tournament was originally meant to be held in Cameroon, but infrastructure and construction delays — along with security fears — meant that the CAF Executive Committee moved the tournament to Egypt, allowing Salah to dream of lifting the trophy in front of his home fans in Cairo.
Unfortunately, despite a perfect nine points from nine in the group stage, with Salah scoring twice in wins over Zimbabwe, Uganda and DR Congo, Egypt embarrassingly came undone against South Africa in the round of 16 — going done 1-0 in front of their despairing supporters at Cairo’s International Stadium.
Salah, who is never one to pass the blame, said Egypt win as a team and lose as a team and admitted they were just not good enough in the knockout match.
“We didn’t perform in the top level, honestly.” he said. “So I’m not talking about the players and hiding myself, but we as a team, we didn’t perform good.”
The frontman also claimed that playing at home with screaming fans everywhere added to the demands on him in particular, given his status at the nation’s biggest sports star. At one point he was forced into hiding in his room all day and couldn’t get out to see his teammates.
“There was a lot of pressure. Sometimes with the national team, they take it as a competition with me, the federation take it as a competition,” he said. “With me, you know, my position’s a little bit different than the players. For example, at the Africa Nations, we went to the hotel and the people come to the hotel very easy, they sit downstairs very easy, which is not normal.
“We had one day off and I couldn’t go down from the room until 9.30pm. When I tried to go down (there) was like 200 person like that with me. And they say, 'Why are you complaining?' I complain because I’m a human being, I want to be with the players."
Salah said that his love for Egypt means quitting the national side to ease the pressure on himself is not something he would consider lightly, because he wants to continue to inspire the next generation of Egyptians to follow in his footsteps.
“I love this country from my heart. It’s always in my mind,” he said. “When I left Egypt when I was 19 years old, it was always in my mind. Something pushed me forward to perform good, to be iconic for the kids, to be like dream for the kids to be one day like me, this was in my mind. I want to be that person, so just to retire from the national team is something huge for me inside.”
One thing is for sure, Salah has already inspired a whole generation of children, not only in Egypt but across the globe.