How Mo Salah Became the New King of Football

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To Salah, it’s about more than the money. It’s about recognition. “The thing is when you ask for something and they show you they can give you something,” he says, they should, “because they appreciate what you did for the club. I’ve been here for my fifth year now. I know the club very well. I love the fans. The fans love me. But with the administration, they have [been] told the situation. It’s in their hands.”

If Liverpool is unwilling to match his wage demands—entirely possible, given FSG’s reluctance to pay superstar salaries both at Liverpool and at the Red Sox—there are few clubs in world soccer who could. Barcelona is notoriously broke. Real Madrid seemingly has its sights on France striker Kylian Mbappé. There’s Paris Saint-Germain, with its limitless Qatari-backed financing, but otherwise the only real contenders are the two Manchester clubs or Chelsea, and a move to any one of them would torch Salah’s status as a Liverpool legend. (I will confess here that I have been a Liverpool fan for 20 years. Yes, I asked him to stay. No, it didn’t help.)

Salah knows his own worth, and that his next deal may be his last chance to make big money. There is also brand Salah to consider: He has sponsorship deals with Adidas, Oppo, Uber, and Pepsi, each paying handsomely for his image. (MBC, the Arabic TV channel, reportedly paid Salah $650,000 to interview him that day at the town hall.)

He is 29 now. Conventional wisdom states that soccer players peak at around 30, although recent advances in sports science are changing that: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, is still scoring for AC Milan at 40. “It’s not just Zlatan,” Salah says. “[Cristiano] Ronaldo is 36, [Karim] Benzema, 34. All the top players at the moment, [Robert] Lewandowski, Messi, all of them are 34, 35.” At his house, Salah has built his own recovery suite, including a cryotherapy bath and hyperbaric chamber—things you’d normally find only at a cutting-edge training facility or treatment center. “I have everything at home. It’s a hospital,” Salah says.

“He’s like a sponge for information. He has an incessant hunger for being better,” Klopp says. “He’s never satisfied. He’s so attentive to what we are asking of him for what helps the team. But alongside that, his commitment to individual improvement is remarkable. Whether it be the fitness and conditioning coaches or the nutritionist or whoever, he looks for those small margins everywhere.”

Salah rarely speaks publicly, and never about politics. This, you feel, is partly self-preservation: Salah’s visibility in Egypt and the Middle East means anything political he says or does is immediately international news. In the Middle East and online, coverage of him can sometimes verge on moral policing: When Salah posted a picture on Instagram of his family celebrating Christmas, it led to a torrent of abuse. But controversy is a distraction, and so he has tried to remove that from his life too. He doesn’t go out partying, or often play video games, instead preferring to stay at home with his kids. “People really change with the fame and the money, so I’m just trying not to do the same, to stay steady,” he says. This, too, is all deliberate, an investment in ensuring he can hit his maximum potential and stay there as long as possible.

Tank top, $890, by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Pants, $695, by Maryam Nassir Zadeh.

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