Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

High stakes, high prospects

Mohamed Salah joins the ranks of Chelsea in the biggest transfer for an Egyptian player in Europe, but what role could the Egyptian play in Chelsea's star-stacked squad? Ahmed Hamdi examines the options

Al-Ahram Weekly

Soccer fans were elated to hear the news this week that Mohamed Salah, Egypt’s international winger, signed a five-and-a-half-year contract with English giant Chelsea FC. The 21-year-old has become a resounding success in no time, exceeding all expectations, including those for Ahmed Hossam Mido's purported transfers to Ajax, Roma, and Tottenham Hotspur.  Salah is the first Egyptian to represent the Blues, playing side-by-side with legends like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Samuel Eto' and Peter Cech. He will also be the second Egyptian to be coached by coaching legend, The Special One, Jose Mourinho.

Salah's transfer to Chelsea is no easy move. The Egyptian will face fierce competition to secure a starting position. There is no doubt that Salah’s choice of Chelsea rather than Liverpool, which was inches away from sealing a deal with the winger, was due to the fact that the former is a more competitive team on the local and European level. Being in third position, Chelsea is daringly close to the top of the league table, just two points away from first position team, Arsenal. On the other hand, Liverpool is in fourth position competing with Tottenham Hotspur and Everton for a Champions League ticket.

Chelsea could also offer Salah more fame and fortune than Liverpool could have done. All said, the 21-year-old’s move to Chelsea is a gamble — he can still lose everything he has achieved in the past two years. It’s a win-all, lose-all situation for Salah — if he wins, he secures fame, fortune and first class tournaments; if he loses, he might end up a burnt card, maybe even back in the Egyptian League in a worst case scenario.

For Salah to win his gamble, he will have to find a way to get into the starting line-up of a star-stacked team. Salah is known to be a player who depends on his speed and high-ball control abilities to penetrate the right flank of the opponent. Although Salah can bring to Chelsea more speed in play and creativity in chance creation on the right wing, the team already possesses such skills.

In his position on the right wing plays the Brazilian Willian, who has been doing a very good job since his arrival at Chelsea last summer. Willian is a fast, lightweight and skillful player — one that Mourinho signed himself and has huge faith in his abilities. However, Salah’s possible spot on the left wing and the playmaker position would not necessarily be affected by Willian’s location.

The playmaker position in Chelsea, to start with, is secured and locked for the Brazilian Oscar — a high-speed player who possesses vision, skill and amazing chance creating and scoring abilities. Mourinho's faith in the player has led him to let go of a player of the calibre of Juan Mata, the Spainish playmaker, who left the club after half a season on the bench. Therefore, Salah's chance to replace Oscar is close to none.

Meanwhile, the left-winger position also seems out of Salah's reach. On Chelsea’s left wing plays the Belgian star and the hope of Belgian football, Eden Hazard. Hazard is one of the top stars, not just in Chelsea, but also in the Premier League and in world football.  Can Salah budge Hazard out of his position? Not in Hazard's current form. The 23-year-old is shining this season like never before. After a match against Sunderland, in which Hazard found the net twice, Sunderland's manager, Gus Poyet, said, "Hazard was outstanding. He was unplayable. As a manager I haven't come up against anyone like that."

These are not the only players Salah will have to compete with for a position on the field. There is also the German talent André Schürrle, the 23-year-old who originally plays as a second striker, and who has been playing on the right wing for Chelsea. He is considered Willian's substitute.

Is there any chance that Salah would get a position in the presence of all these stars? The Egyptian will have to count on Mourinho's squad rotation strategy. Most probably, Salah will take the role of Schürrle, who is a substitute for Willian.  Schürrle will be used more up front to replace the injured striker Fernando Torres on the squad to create a more effective front line in the light of the low scoring percentage of Chelsea's strikers this season.

Salah might also get some playing time on the left wing as a replacement for Hazard before Champions League matches. The Egyptian is not eligible to play in the Champions League due to his prior representation of another team in the same tournament in the same season. Mourinho might choose to rest Hazard before important matches in the Champions League and rely on Salah to fill in his position.

In the 4-2-3-1 formation of Chelsea, Salah's only chance to claim a starting-up position is through the right wing spot once occupied by Willian. Although, taking the Brazilian out is a tough job to achieve, it is still much easier than taking Oscar or Hazard out. For Salah to outplay Willian, he has to understand that optimal physical fitness is calling the shots in this tournament. The Egyptian has to work a lot on his physical fitness and improve his already fast running speed. He would do well to take the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, as an example. He can observe how Ronaldo went from being the slim and fast player to the strong, muscled one he now is and try to walk his path.

Salah will also have to work on his free kicks. Being a master of free kicks would give Salah an extra advantage, especially since Chelsea does not have a fixed free-kicks specialist. Sometimes it is defender, David Luiz, who shoots, while other times it is Oscar. The Egyptian would have to improve his finishing ability to be lethal on goal and thus a more attractive choice for Mourinho.

Salah will also have to have the professional mentality to continue progressing and avoid clashes with Mourinho. The Portuguese coach is known for being destructive when a player gets on his bad side. Salah has to avoid clashes and be reminded of the fate of legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who lost his position in Real Madrid while Mourinho was in charge there due to a disagreement with the Portuguese. Casillas is yet to reclaim his starting position, even after Mourinho left Madrid, despite being one of the best in the world.

Despite the tough challenges Salah will face at Chelsea, he will reap huge benefits playing under the management of one of the best coaches in history. Mourinho can develop Salah's skills and mentality on all levels. His greatest aim should be to get the Portuguese to believe in him and to follow his manager's guidance. Playing on a team with the best players in the world, Salah will gain valuable experience in a much shorter time than if he was playing for a mid-table team. One thing is sure, Salah will learn the precious skill of how to play under huge pressure. In Chelsea, he will not only be competing in the toughest tournaments in the world, The Premier League and Champions League, but he will also be expected to win them.    

Summing up the pros and cons, has Salah made the right decision in choosing the Blues over the Reds, where he would have had better chances to play? Only time will tell. Speaking of right decisions, The Arab Contractors, Salah's first club, are no doubt glad of their decision to let their young player leave with a clause in his contract guaranteeing them a percentage of his future transfer fee.  The Egyptian team will refresh its bank account with nearly 16 million Egyptian pounds after Salah was sold for 13 million Euros, which is nearly 124 million Egyptian pounds. On the other hand, Zamalek will be sorry for not signing Salah while he was available and in their reach.

Salah has now become the most expensive Egyptian and Arab player. He will wear the lucky number 15, which Chelsea's Ivorian legend Didier Drogba wore when he first moved to Chelsea from Marseille. Egyptian fans are not, however, expecting Salah to mimick Drogba’s success. The whole world, on the other hand, will have their eyes locked on the young talent to see if he can truly be a top-class player.

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