How Mohamed Salah went from fifth-choice left-back to free-scoring forward

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Said El Shishiny, who coached Mohamed Salah in the El Mokawloon academy, has claimed he made the call to change his role from left-back to winger as a teenager.

Over the past three seasons with Liverpool, Salah has scored 91 goals in 144 games; there are now only 17 players above him in the club’s all-time goalscorers chart.

Only Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Fowler have netted more than his 70 in the Premier League, with his goal in the 2-1 win over Bournemouth last time out in the league taking him above Luis Suarez as the club’s most prolific import.

It is an incredible record for a player who had previously struggled in an attacking role in the English top flight with Chelsea, and more so as one who started off in defence.

That is according to El Shishiny, who told Ed Aarons as part of his new book Made in Africa—in an extract in the Independent—that he was the coach who “made him famous.”

“I’m the coach who recommended him for the first team,” he claimed, having also arranged accommodation closer to El Mokawloon’s training ground in Cairo, to allow Salah better rest between sessions.

“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.”

Mohamed Salah of Egypt during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals match between Egypt and Zimbabwe at Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt on 21 June 2019 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix ( Samuel Shivambu/Sports Inc/PA Images)

The move from full-back to the wing is one often made by young players; or vice versa, as has been seen in Liverpool’s academy with both Neco Williams and Yasser Larouci in recent years.

But the success of Salah’s transition is rare—akin to Gareth Bale, having also shifted from left-back to forward at Tottenham—and the Reds are reaping the benefits.

There appears to be some question over whether El Shishiny is as influential as he claims, with Aarons’ book detailing how “everywhere you go in Egypt these days there is someone claiming to have played some part in his meteoric rise.”

Taken at face value, however, it was an inspired move by the coach, who continued to tell a story of Salah’s desire to score, which is still evident today.

“We had a match against ENNPI when we won 4-0 and Mohamed had three chances to score but missed every time,” he recalled.

“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!”

It wasn’t the last time Salah scored 30 in a season, of course, and it seems Liverpool owe gratitude to El Shishiny.

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