It’s been a drama-filled World Cup for Mohamed Salah, though very little of it has been of the pleasant variety from the Liverpool forward’s perspective. First, there was all the angst over his shoulder injury, which saw Salah miss Egypt’s opening loss against Uruguay and reappear for a quiet performance against Russia where he was clearly not quite at full strength.
Then, there were the awkward photo opportunities during training camp in which a slightly befuddled Salah - who reportedly had been roused from sleep solely for the occasion - appeared alongside Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic.
After Egypt’s disappointing loss against Russia, there were grumblings that Salah was not happy about how Egypt was running their camp, and that their football association was treating the training camp more like a PR junket than a footballing operation. Salah himself had to turn down the noise with a statement of his own.
الجميع في منتخب مصر متكاتف ولا يوجد أي خلاف على الإطلاق بيننا.. نحترم بعضنا البعض والعلاقة على أفضل وجه.— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) June 20, 2018
Now come reports that the situation has come to a head. The most recent catalyst appears to have been a banquet hosted by Kadyrov in which Salah was granted honorary Chechen citizenship, which was later followed by a slightly self-congratulatory tweet from the head of the Chechen Republic. Photos of a sheepish looking Salah alongside Kadyrov have been widely circulated across social media.
There are plenty of reasons for any person to be slightly uncomfortable about taking center stage in a Kadyrov photo op. The Chechen leader has been roundly criticized in the Western press amidst reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, and for aggressively pursuing a campaign against homosexuals in his own country so shockingly extreme that it has been called an anti-gay purge and a violation of international human rights law.
Now, CNN are reporting that Salah is deeply unhappy about how he appears to have been used - with the cooperation of his own football association - to legitimize Kadyrov’s regime, and that the Liverpool forward is considering leaving the Egyptian training camp altogether. If true, it’s would be a sign of just how unhappy Salah is with the way Egypt has handled this World Cup, given that the player is well aware of how his own image is inextricably linked with the national team in his home country.
These reports intensify similar noises about Salah’s dissatisfaction making the rounds on social media. Following the most recent appearance with Kadyrov, Salah’s agent appeared to make an implicit disavowal of Kadryov’s regime by tweeting a statement in support of equal rights for all. Adding to the confusion, Salah himself had also tweeted that there was no rift within the Egyptian training camp.
When it was once said that a picture speaks a thousand words, apparently not. So here are the words: Regardless of background, ethnicity, orientation, preferences, everyone deserves respect, and equal rights. #RespectForAll— Ramy Abbas Issa (@RamyCol) June 23, 2018
The proliferation of rumors and now reports from various outlets suggests that there may be some fire behind all the smoke. If so, it’s a worrying situation. It’s not good state of affairs for a player to be publicly at war with his own footballing association, and in Salah’s case it is particularly fraught due to the myriad potential negative personal consequences for the player. All eyes will be on Salah during Egypt’s final match of the World Cup (against Saudi Arabia), and Liverpool supporters will be hoping the player gets back to Melwood sooner rather than later.