Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah “was always very quick and getting into good positions” as his academy coach Said El Shishiny moved him from the left-back position into a forward.
Attending the El Mokawloon FC academy in Cairo during his youth days, Salah started as a defender, but El Shishiny saw some attacking prowess in the player and moved him further up the field.
It was days of sacrifice as Salah would travel for four hours every day from his home village of Nagrig to Cairo and back as he pursued football as a career.
El Shishiny claims to be the one who engineered Salah’s promotion to the El Mokawloon first team, where he made his Egyptian Premier League debut as a 17-year-old in 2010.
“Many coaches will say that they made him famous but I know it was down to me,” El Shishiny was quoted in the book Made in Africa as per The Independent.
A teenage Salah quickly sealed his place in the senior team, attracting interest from Al Ahly and Zamalek but a move to the Egyptian giants never materialised.
El Shishiny says the Liverpool star was not at his best in the left-back position, falling behind four other players in the pecking order in that position, before he decided to deploy him as an attacker, where he flourished.
“I’m the coach who recommended him for the [El Mokawloon] first team. Mohamed was playing as a left-sided defender for our team but I thought he could be better further forward.
“At the time, he wasn’t the main player in his position as we had another four who could also play there so I decided to try something different and put him on the right wing.
“He was always very quick and was getting into good positions, even if he was missing some of the chances.”
El Shishiny also highlighted Salah’s hunger for goals, a trait that is still witnessed today.
“We had a match against ENNPI when we won 4-0 and Mohamed had three chances to score but missed every time,” continued El Shishiny.
“After the match I went to the changing room and he was crying, so I asked him, ‘Why are you crying?’ He said, ‘Because I didn’t score today.’
“Everyone else in the team was happy because we had won but he was so upset. I told him, ‘Don’t worry, you will be the top scorer in our team next season.’ He ended up scoring 30 goals!”
After two seasons at El Mokawloon, Salah moved to Swiss giants FC Basel, followed by stints at Chelsea, Fiorentina, AS Roma and then Liverpool, where he is in his third season.
At the Reds, the Egyptian has established himself as one of the world’s premier attackers.