Mohamed Salah A portrait of a player under pressure –

Mohamed Salah: A portrait of a player under pressure – The Athletic

Early Saturday evening, there was a flurry of messages between Abidjan-based journalists after an interesting email was circulated by CAF (Confederation of African Football), the organizers of AFCON 2023.

Mohamed Salah, the captain of the Egyptian national team, was due to give a press conference at the Palais de la Culture in the Ivorian capital.

That is news in itself. Finally, Salah rarely speaks to the media. At Liverpool he has only featured in the team once, and that was almost six years ago, after breaking the 40-goal mark in his first season at the club. The conversation lasted less than four minutes.

Salah is arguably Africa's most famous footballer, yet he chooses his words carefully on the sporadic occasions when he takes center stage.

Many of the captains of the other nations in this tournament have taken over press responsibilities before the first two group games.

But when Egypt faced Mozambique, Mostafa Mohamed accompanied coach Rui Vitoria. Before the next game, it was Al Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy.

Perhaps Salah had expected that Egypt would go deep into the competition and that this would give him more opportunities to speak than the captains of some other nations.

However, he is now injured and will miss at least two games. Back in Egypt, he was heavily criticized by some of the loudest and most outspoken pundits. Ibrahim Said, a two-time AFCON winner and controversial commentator, has even expressed doubts about Salah's commitment to Egypt, claiming that Liverpool is more important to him.

Salah is injured against Ghana (Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images)

There is no basis for these claims, but amid this hysteria, Salah is trying to heal his sore Achilles tendon, even though Egypt will go home if they don't get at least a point against Cape Verde tomorrow night.

The Egyptian Football Association assumed that most of the questions before Cape Verde would be about Salah, so he might as well answer them himself. His presence was a sign of strength and suggested he will recover from his injury and play for Egypt again when they negotiate the next two games.

The backdrop was appropriately starry. The Palais de la Culture was financed by China in 1999 and is modeled on the Sydney Opera House. It is considered Abidjan's premier live venue for local bands and comedians and has hosted world-renowned musicians such as Wyclef Jean.

Salah's journey from Hotel Tiama, Egypt's team base, across the bridge connecting Treichville to Plateau took 15 minutes. He sat at a long table next to the tournament's mascot, an elephant named Akwaba, which simply means “welcome.”

After concluding a press conference for Nigeria, CAF's media officer announced that Salah was coming, but Vitoria was simply referred to as “the coach”.

It was clear who the star attraction was, but the press were also told that no questions would be accepted about Salah's condition in light of what this could mean for Liverpool. “This is a tournament for Africa,” he suggested.

The Athletic has decided to run the following dialogue in full to convey the pressure Salah is under and also how he deals with it. He was friendly, positive and persuasive. When Vitoria was asked if he would resign his post if Egypt failed tomorrow, Salah intervened: “Go on, go on!”

Only when asked at the last question, whether he thought the Egyptian team would be better without him, did he become more combative.


Mo Salah is – remarkably – injured. Now Egypt and Liverpool just have to hope and pray

CAF media officer: Mohamed, how are you?

Salah: First of all, I'm happy to be here, but my injury is still there. The most important thing is to talk about the game. We have great players and a great team. We just have to fight and see what happens. There are the best 19 players from Egypt and 27 in total; We have to play with courage and confidence. I believe we will win the game.

journalist: Egypt has been close to claiming victory in recent editions of this competition. How important is it to win the AFCON and will you try to win it again?

Salah: I think everyone knows what it means to win the AFCON. We are proud to wear the t-shirt. We were unlucky in the last game (when Egypt lost the final on penalties against Senegal in Cameroon) and before that in Gabon. We are all very motivated.

But we have a fantastic team with a great coach. We have to stay positive. Two years ago we finished first in the group and then faced the favorites (Ivory Coast, Morocco, Cameroon and Senegal) in each round. If we qualify second it might not be the same.

journalist: The Algerian and Egyptian teams (from North Africa) have not been able to win so far. Did climatic factors influence the team's performance?

Salah: Climate can affect everyone. We try to adapt and take advantage of the opportunity in front of us. Unfortunately we drew the games. We know the conditions in Africa. We also have professional players who take these aspects into account. The pressure is on all teams.

As professionals, we should ignore the climate factor and focus on the goal to be achieved. It shouldn't be our main concern. Climate is not the main factor. We want to win and qualify for the next stage of the competition.

Salah in his press conference (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

journalist: How do you rate the quality of the game so far?

Salah: It is very difficult for the teams that are considered the best. The levels are very close to each other. You go to the game and you don't know who is going to win. Football is developing a lot. Players in Europe play a lot at the big levels. You can see it at the World Cup: Morocco has come this far and the whole of Africa was behind it.

journalist: You are one of the best players in the world. Do you feel the pressure from the Egyptian public?

Salah: I wouldn't say our performances were bad. It wasn't easy for any player. It's about the team, not about an individual player. The ball is there for everyone. Our goal is to get as far as possible in this tournament. I would like to win it. In any case, I would like to win. It. Somehow it will happen, I believe. Whatever I believe, I achieve. Sooner or later it will happen.

journalist: How do you react to the criticism of the team in Egypt?

Salah: I hear the criticism. When we lose a game, people are very critical. I believe in my team and I believe in the players. I think we will continue to improve our performance. It's true that I'm the captain, but I wish people were more flexible and realized that players give their best even if the result is different than expected.

I ask the fans to get behind the team. Football is not easy. Some players are taking part in the tournament for the first time. The pressure is not on the fans, but on us as players. We are open to criticism. But as professionals, we know what is expected on the field. I respect all opinions. I do my best, but I don't take into account what is said on social media.

journalist: Some people have said that the Egyptian team is freer when Salah is not there, such as in the second half against Ghana when the team scored two goals. Could your presence be an obstacle?

Salah: I don't think my presence puts any additional pressure on the players. It is not mandatory to play with Mohamed Salah. Any player can be replaced and the others will improve, but that doesn't mean that player has negatively affected those players' performance. I believe we are a team and that is all I can say to your question.


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(Top photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)