Mohamed Salah’s London blues: A warning to other Arab talents?

The Egyptian international's move to English Premier League club Chelsea has put the handbrake on his career

Ross Dunbar

Published: Updated:

Mohamed Salah, Roma's Egyptian international, looked his old self as he slammed in a debut goal against Valencia in a pre-season friendly.

What was prevalent about his presence at Swiss champions FC Basel, his first club in Europe, was his infectious enthusiasm amid many potential barriers – language, culture, playing style. But the move to English Premier League club Chelsea has put the handbrake on his career – he went on

It's becoming a common path: impress in Europe, sign for one of the top clubs, and struggle to break into the first-team. Why this remains is a problem in itself. Last year, Salah stepped out from the wilderness, signing a short-term loan deal with Italian club Fiorentina and he immediately looked reinvigorated.

Four goals in three games in Serie A, and Salah was on fire. The 23-year-old, born in the northern city of Bayssoun, went on to score nine goals and assist four in 26 matches for La Viola, in all competitions, the best strike-rate since Basel.

Salah moved from Egypt's Arab Contractors to Switzerland's most dominant club, FC Basel, in July 2012. Following the tragic events of Port Said in January 2012, Egypt's football was in meltdown: there was no Premier League, and finding competitive football was almost impossible.

As part of the country's U23 side, he played a friendly against Basel – and the rest is history. His development was quicker than those at Basel had expected from the player, just turning 20, who filled the role of Bayern Munich-bound Xherdan Shaqiri.

Salah's first season was decent, scoring five goals and securing the national championship for Basel. But his best form, remarkably, came in Europe where his devastating pace – compared by one coach to Usain Bolt – left defenses for dead on the counterattack. He scored against Chelsea and Tottenham on a stunning UEFA Europa League run to the semifinals, an unprecedented achievement for a Swiss side.

Liverpool were one of several English and German clubs who came looking to prize him away from Switzerland. Offers were on the table, but Salah preferred to play Champions League football and win another championship with Basel before making his move to one of the top leagues.

More goals against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and St Jakob Park in the Champions League certainly perked the interest of Jose Mourinho's scouting department. Basel beat the Blues twice in Europe, the Egyptian forward showing class and composure to tuck in a superb goal in London before netting the winner in a 1-0 win.

He went on to score 10 goals in 29 games that season, one which was disrupted at times by injury. But the time was right for the attacker – and in the January transfer window completed an $13 million move to Chelsea.

In the first few months, Salah had some impressive moments – he scored versus Arsenal and had a wonderful game against Stoke, scoring one and creating two. But after the summer break, Salah's time on the pitch was limited.

His loan move to Fiorentina was a massive opportunity to rekindle his attacking verve once more under Vincenzo Montella. Salah established himself immediately as an inverted right-forward, playing on to his stronger left-foot and his performances were noted by Rudi Garcia at Roma, his fourth club in Europe.

Although still a Chelsea player, he has signed a one-year-deal with Roma, and the club has the option of a permanent transfer in the summer. A return to Stamford Bridge looks unlikely, yet the exposure to a full-season of football could boost his career as it did with Kevin de Bruyne who left the Blues for Wolfsburg in 2014.

“I think Roma are one of the biggest clubs in the world and I'm happy to be in this team,” Salah told Roma's official club website. “I think everybody here has ambition and everybody wants to win the title. Everybody will give their best to make the fans happy.”

Targeting the championship considering Juventus' strangehold is one thing, but reviving is own career is something the Egyptian can achieve in Rome. However, Salah's time in England should act as a lesson for other prodigious talents in Europe.

The grass isn't always greener on the other side.

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