Mohamed Salah's tussle with new Pharaohs manager overshadows Egyptian football

Rift between Liverpool star and Hossam Hassan began at Africa Cup of Nations

Powered by automated translation

All is not well in Egyptian football. Liverpool star Mohamed Salah and new manager Hossam Hassan are locked in an intensely publicised trial of wills.

The saga dates back to the Africa Cup of Nations in January but is currently dominating the national conversation, with their tussle being played out on popular sports talk shows and social media platforms.

The rift has meant that Salah stayed put in Liverpool during last week’s international break, missing the Pharaohs’ friendlies at home against New Zealand and Croatia.

The rift with the manager, former international and the Pharaohs’ all-time top scorer Hassan, began when the 31-year-old Salah decided to leave Afcon in the Ivory Coast and return to England to undergo treatment for a hamstring injury he picked during a group match.

His departure kicked off a storm in Egypt, with critics contending that Salah, as captain, should have stayed with the team in the Ivory Coast while receiving treatment. It was understood at the time that Salah would re-join the squad once fully recovered.

Speaking in a television interview soon after Salah’s return to England – and before his appointment as national team manager – Hassan said Salah should not be allowed to play if he returned. Hassan explained it would be unfair on other members of the squad.

“Stay there in Liverpool until you have fully recovered, and God be with you,” he said dismissively.

“Back here, we have men to do the job.”

The Pharaohs, record seven-time African champions, did not advance beyond the round of 16, with the Democratic Republic of Congo showing them the exit door. But the controversy around Salah's departure never went away.

Manager Rui Vitoria of Portugal was soon sacked and Hassan, a veteran of club management, was named as his successor in February.

Salah took to X, formerly Twitter, to thank the Portuguese for his work with the Pharaohs. But he never publicly congratulated Hassan on his appointment, as a team’s captain is expected to do.

His failure to do so has given rise to speculation that Salah may never play for the Pharaohs so long as Hassan is manager.

Experts familiar with the details of the rift said Salah has not spoken to Hassan since he became manager, is not taking his calls and remains publicly silent on the issue.

Instead, the Liverpool marksman relayed his decision not to join the national squad for last week’s friendlies through sports minister Ashraf Sobhy, with whom he is in regular contact.

“He told him that he did not want to leave Liverpool to play friendlies against New Zealand and Croatia and would rather focus on his club football,” said Sabry Siraq, a prominent football commentator.

Hassan made a point of reciprocating the perceived slight.

Speaking to reporters after the Pharaohs’ 4-2 defeat to Croatia, he cited the absence of several key players through injury or other reasons as contributing factors to the poor result. He made no mention of Salah.

Salah’s rift with Hassan has divided fans in Egypt, the vast majority of whom are siding with the Liverpool forward. He has for years been the darling of Egyptians, who revere him for his goalscoring skills and admire him giving back to his home country and the Nile Delta village from which he hails.

He almost single-handedly secured Egypt’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a tournament they returned to for the first time in 28 years. He also helped the Pharaohs reach the final of two of the three Afcon tournaments before the latest one in the Ivory Coast this year.

At club level, Salah has lifted the Fifa Club World Cup, Uefa Super Cup, Uefa Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup during his seven-year spell with Liverpool, who are two points clear at the top of the Premier league table with nine matches remaining, and have a chance to win the Europa League as well.

Experts say the Hassan-Salah rift is unlikely to go away any time soon given the manager’s fiery temper and his pride, which some critics see as unreasonably inflated.

Significantly, Hassan is in this tussle at a time when his management credentials are being questioned by the media, with many analysts contending that he is long on enthusiasm and energy but short on tactics.

The Pharaohs’ uninspiring performance against Croatia and New Zealand (1-0 win for the Pharaohs) did not help his case.

“What Mohamed Salah has done for Egypt equals many titles,” wrote former Egyptian international Ayman Younis. “Egypt now is known the world over for the Giza Pyramids and Salah.

“Hossam Hassan began his time in charge with stubbornness and excesses. We love and support him … but we will lose a great deal (without Salah) and Hassan will regret his present actions.”

Ahmed Shobair, another retired Egypt international turned talk-show host, echoed Younis’s sentiments on Salah, whom he described as the one person who has made the world speak positively about Egypt.

“Who in his right mind would try to do without Salah,” said Shobair, who said he expected the forward to make himself available for the international break in June, when the Pharaohs take on Burkina Faso at home and Guinea-Bissau away in 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

Updated: April 01, 2024, 12:22 PM