'Egyptian Messi' Salah's star rising for Egypt

Thursday January 12 2017

Egypt's Mohamed Salah (left) takes part in a training session of Egypt's national team on January 8, 2017 at the Cairo International Stadium. Egypt returns to the African Cup of Nations after a seven-year absence with a new generation, different from the lineup which won three consecutive titles before the 2011 uprising exhausted Egyptian football. PHOTO | MOHAMED EL-SHAHED |

Egypt's Mohamed Salah (left) takes part in a training session of Egypt's national team on January 8, 2017 at the Cairo International Stadium. Egypt returns to the African Cup of Nations after a seven-year absence with a new generation, different from the lineup which won three consecutive titles before the 2011 uprising exhausted Egyptian football. PHOTO | MOHAMED EL-SHAHED |  AFP

By AFP
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MILAN

He may have failed to impress Jose Mourinho, but Mohamed Salah has the chance at the Africa Cup of Nations to demonstrate just why he has been hailed as the 'Egyptian Messi'.

"Salah looks great," Egypt coach Hector Cuper told the asroma.it website on Wednesday.

"If he continues the way he's going, he can become one of the best players in the world. I would love that for him."

For most, including Chelsea's demanding fans, Salah probably doesn't even belong in a sentence that includes the names of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

But one thing is for sure: since his departure from Chelsea, the 24-year-old's star is on the rise.

Roma's fans owe a big thank you to Mourinho, who handed Salah a resolute 'thanks but no thanks' note in February 2015 after just 13 appearances, following an initial 11m euros move from FC Basel 13 months earlier.

Italian supporters are big fans of the faster-paced English game, and when Salah came to Serie A, he was welcomed with open arms.

Salah has since repaid their affection with relentless energy, lightning pace, great ball control and an eye for goal that saw him bag a maiden Serie A hat-trick last month as he continues to build an increasingly strong rapport with Roma striker Edin Dzeko.

Voted Roma's player of the year in 2016, Salah has become an integral part of the club's push for a first title since 2001.

It is 15 years since Francesco Totti drove Roma to just their third 'scudetto', and in the 40-year-old club icon's 25th and probably final season, Roma are Juventus's biggest title challengers.

Salah certainly feels more at home at the Stadio Olimpico than at Stamford Bridge.

Despite flashes of brilliance, including scoring his first Chelsea goal in a 6-0 win over bitter London rivals Arsenal after replacing Oscar, Salah never impressed Mourinho.

Little did he know it, but after switching numbers from 15 to 17 when Eden Hazard took number 10 at the start of the following season, Salah's time in a Chelsea shirt was almost up.

He made only three appearances in the 2014-2015 season and by February was on his way to Florence in a bid to revive a career that had blossomed at Basel, where he scored three times against Chelsea in Europe in successive seasons.

Salah signed an 18-month loan deal, settling in quickly with a series of crucial goals including a brace in a 2-1 Italian Cup semi-final first leg win over Juventus and a goal against Tottenham in the Europa League that secured Fiorentina's entry to the round o 16.

Coach Vincenzo Montella, now at AC Milan, must have felt like Christmas had come again.

"He's been doing very well. The impact he's had on Italian football has been excellent," gushed Montella.

"He can play in any position in attack. He's an excellent winger, but you really get the best out of him when he plays as a supporting striker."

Yet when the chance came to join Roma, Salah quickly seized his chance, eventually signing a one-year loan deal which cost Roma 5m euros in August 2015.

He repaid their interest by finishing the club's top scorer with 15 in all competitions and 14 in Serie A, cementing his Player of the Season accolade last year, earning a permanent deal with the club before the start of the season.

Egypt last won the African Cup of Nations in 2010 and Cuper has high hopes they can triumph — With Salah's help, of course.

"We have a base of excellent local players, thanks to a very competitive domestic league," he said.

"We then have several top-quality players like (Hull's Ahmed) Elmohamady, (Stoke City's) Ramadan Sobhi and (Arsenal's Mohamed) Elneny, who play in the Premier League. Plus Salah."