Neil Humphreys: Why the world needs Salah
Liverpool boast an uplifting force for good
- Liverpool lead 2-0 after 1st leg
Mohamed Salah achieved something greater than scoring arguably the goal of the season on Sunday.
Without playing down his outrageous exhibition of striking perfection, it's his job. He's paid to get bums off seats.
What he's not paid to do is lift sagging spirits, to stir the soul by spreading a message of hope. He's just a multi-millionaire footballer. He's not Gandhi.
But the Liverpool forward went above and beyond for his club, his adopted country and, yes, I'll say it, the whole world with a moment of serenity that should be remembered as long as the strike that came before.
It wasn't the goal. It was the celebration, the latest reminder why Salah is worthy of defeating Porto tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and lifting the Champions League this season.
It was another humbling example of why this remarkable man isn't necessarily the footballer his profession deserves, but the one that it needs right now.
Is that a little over the top? That depends on one's perspective.
Has anyone reading this column ever been called a terrorist before? Salah was called one last week.
Have you ever seen viral clips of red-faced racists calling you a "bomber", over and over again, in a packed bar filled with people either singing or laughing along to the Islamophobic chanting?
Salah has. He saw the video of Chelsea plankton, raising pint glasses while sinking to the depths of humanity as they abused his name. Presumably, his wife and family saw the video, too.
Salah is still a young man, only 26. He had earned the right to be angry.
Instead, he responded with a quiet dignity that the drunken numbskulls did not merit.
When he scored that goal for the ages, he silenced the Chelsea fans. The stage was his. The world was watching. He could've done anything. But he pushed his teammates away and dropped to his knees in prayer.
In the heat of a battle won, he made a gesture for peace.
That was the real fist-pumping moment, an action that should be rewarded with victory in the Champions League, the English Premier League, the Community Shield and any egg and spoon race that Salah might stumble upon on his path to sainthood.
In the current era of ceaseless greed and global expansion, it's become fashionable to mock and ridicule the clueless, cashed-up footballer. And yet, Salah shines like a beacon of tolerance, which is all the more impressive considering he endures more criticism than the average superstar.
As a footballer, he's judged differently to his peers. That's his fault. When he knocked in 44 goals last season - scoring more times than eight full teams - he became his own worst enemy.
Salah had to follow an impossible act. Himself.
But, aside from that mini-drought of one goal in 10 league games, his heroics against Chelsea lifted him to level with Sergio Aguero at the top of the EPL charts (19) and the Argentinian contributes less outside the box.
Salah has also chipped in with seven assists. His figures are not as dreamy as last season, but they're more than enough to keep Porto awake at night.
And as a man, he's judged differently to his peers, at least among rival fans. He's an Egyptian. He's a Muslim. He's a "terrorist" among online trolls. He's a "bomber" among Chelsea's drunks. He's named in every list of every abused footballer in the steady stream of media features on the return of racism in modern football.
Of course, the racism never went away. In a pub of drunken racists, that means picking on the wrong footballer.
Or it means throwing banana skins at Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, or abusing Manchester City's Raheem Sterling or Brighton's Gaetan Bong or singing anti-Semitic songs about Tottenham supporters, all of which have happened in recent weeks, as bigoted language unforgivably slips into the mainstream.
But Salah has suffered more than most. He's criticised for not donning his cape twice in two seasons to play Superman, despite every reasonable stat proving that he's been sufficiently super. And he's publicly abused for his private beliefs.
But he answers both with a win and a prayer.
Never mind the Reds, football itself is lucky to have him.
And Liverpool's rivals are lucky that the Champions League is not determined by an individual's character. If the best man won the trophy, they'd be carving Salah's name on the silverware now.