Amir Abd Elhalim
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I gave Salah his big chance in football after spotting talent in an Egyptian youth game.. he deserves to win Ballon d’Or

Cairo, Egypt Sports 13 Mar 2023

THE FIRST time Ivica Todorov saw Mo Salah play football he knew straightaway he had unearthed Egyptian gold.

It was December 2010 and the Serbian-French coach had not long taken over as manager of Al Mokawloon Al Arab Sporting Club – also known as Arab Contractors.

A chance visit to watch the club’s youth team on the outskirts of Cairo ended up being a Sliding Doors moment, one that changed his and Salah’s life forever.

And 13 years later it led to a major revision of the Liverpool record books.

Salah’s performance that day in junior colours was enough to persuade Todorov to blood the 18-year-old back into the first team.

The teenager – who initially took four hours and five buses to get to training – was a frustrated figure with no goals and no impact following a disappointing debut few months in the Egyptian top division.

But it was under Todorov on Christmas Day when he scored his first ever senior goal in a 1-1 draw at champions-elect Al Ahly.

As our screenshots show, it was a typical Salah finish, displaying electrifying pace to breach the opponent’s defence and latch on to an upfield pass.

While the finish from the yellow-shirted, curly-haired young striker was brilliant, the Ahly goalkeeper had a nightmare, letting the shot squirm under his body.

Nonetheless, as Salah started to pray on the pitch, it was the first of many moments he would enjoy seeing the ball nestle in the net.

Todorov, 72, recalled: “We can’t know all of life until we live it but upon seeing him I knew he was a rare talent.

“I remember that Mo was playing with the youth team when they were losing 1-0 until the last 16 minutes. He participated and scored a goal and gave an assist.

“Therefore, I decided four days after this match to give him the chance against Egyptian giants Al Ahly.

“I had the courage to play him and he scored a goal. The rest we all know.

“This gave us confidence that we would not be relegated to the second division.

“Time passes quickly but I’m proud of Mo because he is among the best players in the world.

“If I hadn’t been there to watch the youth game, he might have been playing in the second division in Egypt today.

“Salah is quick but it was necessary to develop the use of his pace on the field and his ability to control his movements while running.

“We worked together to develop his control of the ball and scoring but the most important thing was his talent.

“During our time together, I encouraged him not to listen to anyone and use his instincts when he has the ball.

“I’m proud and happy with what he has done because he’s a golden player and a great person.”

Salah, known as the Egyptian Messi, only stayed in his homeland until 2012 before moving to Europe, first to Swiss club Basel and then on to Chelsea in 2014.

Liverpool bought him for an initial £34.3million off Roma in June 2017 and in six years, he has overtaken Robbie Fowler to become their record goalscorer in the Premier League.

Top-flight goals No.128 and 129 came in the 7-0 thumping of Manchester United last Sunday and he will hope to add to that tally lunchtime today (Saturday) at Bournemouth.

In July 2022, the 30-year-old penned a new three-year contract worth around £400,000-per-week, which will keep him at Anfield until 2025.

Essentially, it means he will see out his best years under Jurgen Klopp – though he is 100 goals off Ian Rush’s record of 229 league goals.

Todorov is retired now but during his time, he was a real globetrotter, working across Africa in countries such as Algeria, Congo, Burkino Faso, Morocco, Tunisia and Gabon.

The septuagenarian has seen it all in football and he was an extremely proud man as he watched Salah help Liverpool destroy Man Utd.

On this form, and in this mood, Todorov reckons his protégé could one day become officially the best player on the planet.

Todorov added: “In Liverpool there is everything to be happy, a great team with a great coach who trusts him.

“I hope he can win the Ballon d’Or to crown his career.

“If Liverpool signed three or four top players, he could win the Ballon d’Or with the team.

“If he did that, I would be the happiest person in the world.”
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