Liverpool vs Manchester United is a game that notoriously has a huge amount of viewers, but Saturday’s instalment will be a clash feasted upon by a whole new nation.
Mohamed Salah, jokingly titled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as the ‘King of Egypt’ some months ago, is the first real Egyptian star to feature for either of the teams and will make his debut in the fixture this weekend.
Salah makes it to the game off the back of further increasing his hero status back home, two goals – including a 95th minute winner – against Congo last week to send Egypt to their first World Cup since 1990, an astonishing statistic for a huge nation that has won it’s continental trophy, the African Cup of Nations, four times since they last got to compete on the global stage.
It has been a desperate wait for the football-mad nation, with pictures of Salah lifted aloft by his teammates and fans only further inking in the ‘God’ image that is portrayed of him back home.
Those two goals against Congo took his tally to 32 in 56 games for his country and playing as a winger those are simply superb statistics.
It’s unfair to call a team that has qualified for the World Cup a ‘one-man team’ but of Egypt’s seven qualifying goals, Salah bagged five.
Adding all this to his barnstorming start to life at Liverpool after his summer move from AS Roma, and the Reds may well have a superstar on their hands.
When we talk about superstars, people’s minds often go to the best players in the world, and that’s fair. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are superstars but is Sergio Aguero, a better player than Salah, a bigger superstar than the Egyptian, given he’s not Argentina’s best player and their population is half that of Egypt?
Shinji Kagawa is a player that comes into this train of thought nicely. With Ji Sung-Park and Kagawa featuring for Manchester United in the last 10 years coinciding with the boom of football in Asia, having two ‘superstars’ in their squad has only helped United grow their popularity (and bank balance) in the east.
With Salah, Liverpool have the potential to do something similar in Africa.
The Reds’ superstars of recent years have undoubtedly been Torres, Gerrard and Suarez. Torres was influential in Spain’s 2008-2012 success and had a country idolise him, but he wasn’t the only one. Salah is undoubtedly Egypt’s main man and comes from a country with twice the population that Spain does.
It’s a similar story with Gerrard, Egypt’s 96M people far out-reaching the whole of the United Kingdom whilst Suarez – despite arguably being the best in the world in 2013/14 – was hero to a Uruguayan nation of less than 4M people, not quite as marketable as King of Egypt Salah.
It seems sometimes that talking of this is pointless, why does it benefit Liverpool, other than a few more shirt sales?
It’s hard to believe, but it goes deeper than that. Should Liverpool be able to corner the African market through Salah, as United have done in Asia, the Reds will find it much easier to lure the continent’s top talent.
Manchester City and Chelsea tried with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba respectively, but at just 23M, their continental reach is stark compared to Salah’s. See Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang too, the hot-shot Dortmund striker coming from a nation of just 1.5M people.
Salah, with Liverpool’s global reach and a huge country’s support behind him, could well surpass the King of Egypt tag, becoming the King of Africa.
He’s already ahead of his teammates in marketing terms, having almost double the Twitter followers of captain Jordan Henderson and wizard Philippe Coutinho combined.
On Instagram (5.4M followers), Salah is just ousted by Coutinho (6.1M) but far ahead of Mane (990k) and Firmino (2.3m).
We all wondered what Roma were on about when they congratulated Salah on winning Liverpool’s Player of the Month for October, November and December. Now their joke is set to be part of a ‘they’re funny because they’re true’ collection.
Salah may not be Liverpool’s best player, he may not be the Reds’ most important player, but he could be their next superstar.
Whether or not you care, get excited or even fall asleep to the sound of the ‘how marketable are Liverpool players’ drum, it doesn’t matter really.
But if you are interested, there’s a whole new reason to get excited about Mo Salah – as if we weren’t excited enough already!