Dubai: The script could not have been written better for Mohammad Salah, whose trademark celebration with stretched arms soon after putting Liverpool ahead in the Champions League final said it all.
Redemption looked finally in store for the most famous Arab footballer at the moment — who along with his club ended their run of so-near-yet-so-far campaigns at the Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid on Saturday night.
It was in Kiev last year when within 30 minutes of the Champions League final, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos brought him down with a cynical tug — which saw the prolific striker being stretchered off and the Spanish giants making it a no-contest with a 3-1 win. The two-horse race for the Premiership title this season saw the Reds in a gallant chase with Manchester City with Pep Guardiola’s men having the last laugh on the final day of the league.
“Everything happens for a reason and last year when we lost the final, I think we were meant to come back and win it this time,” a jubilant Salah said on Saturday night after lifting the most prestigious title of his career. It was also a statement for Arab footballers as he was only the third footballer from this part of the world to win the elite league — the previous two being Algeria’s legendary Rabeh Majder for Porto (1987) and Moroccan Achraf Hakimi for Real Madrid only last year.
The impact of Salah’s shoulder injury was felt strongly in Egyptian football as well as the striker — who played a key role in the Pharaohs qualifying for the World Cup finals after 28 years decades — missed their first game and was nowhere in his form as they lost all their group matches and failed to progress beyond first round.
It’s no surprise that Liverpool and Salah’s success echoed way back in Cairo, where Egyptian fans celebrated their favourite icon’s moment of glory. “The match was like a typical Premier League game, that was highly defensive but it’s a huge feat because no other Egyptian footballer has achieved this before,” Seif Hegi, 21, a university student from Cairo said.
For all his individual accolades, which already includes two Golden Boots as topscorer in the Premiership, Salah now has a more tangible reward to match his talent. “If I had a choice between the Champions League and the Golden Boot, then of course it would be the Champions League, no doubt the Champions League,” Salah had said before last year’s final.
“I was very disappointed after that injury, I went off after 30 minutes and we lost the game. It motivated me to win today. When you know how it feels to lose, you say to yourself ‘Let’s go and win that’.”
“I think our game is more mental,” he said. “You have to believe in yourself and you can see the players were believing in themselves tonight.”