This week BBC Sport will be profiling the five players on the shortlist for BBC African Footballer of the Year. The final one is Mohamed Salah, the Liverpool and Egypt forward. Details of how to vote are further down this page.
In recent years, Egypt has often made headlines for dispiriting reasons – such as political unrest and terror attacks – but one man has been changing that.
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has enjoyed an incredible year on the pitch, finishing as the top scorer in the 2017-18 Premier League season, becoming the fastest player in the Reds’ history to score 50 goals and firing his team to the Champions League final.
Off the pitch, a series of heart-warming gestures mean the 26-year-old is not only endearing himself to Liverpool supporters but football fans across the world.
“Mohamed has been a pure human being since he was young,” Hamdi Nooh, the coach at Arab Contractors, his first professional club, told BBC Sport.
“I will tell you a story that not many know about. When he was 10 and training at his local club in his village of Basyoun, there was a dog that had puppies just under the stands surrounding the training pitch.
“Although he was still young, Salah used to carry food to the training pitch all the way from his house every day to feed the puppies. He’s always been like that. He has a big heart and loves to be giving.”
In recent years, the forward – who this week spoke out on behalf of Egypt’s stray dogs – has been helping more than just animals.
Stories of his generosity are legion: a father revealing Salah was funding surgery for his son’s Leukaemia, a donation towards nursery facilities in Basyoun where he has built a religious institution where children can also study.
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His donations are across the spectrum as shown when he gave more than $30,000 ($23,400) to help former footballers in Egypt, with even the country profiting when Salah gave nearly $300,000 to a government whose economy was plummeting last year.
But it is his home village of Basyoun, where the Mohamed Salah Charity Foundation has helped 450 families financially by giving them a monthly allowance, that has profited the most.
“Salah has never forgotten his roots – unlike other players who often forget their families and villages when they become wealthy,” says Inas Mazhar, who worked as the Egypt national team’s media officer between 2016 and June 2018.
“It is well known that Salah dedicates a lot of money for those in need in his village. Everything goes through his father, who knows what to do.
“For example, someone from the village preparing for a wedding will come to his father to request funds. Or if someone says he is sick, the father follows the case and if it is true, he will help pay for the operation.”
Breaking down barriers
Even when he has not actively given money, Salah has helped in other ways.
After he fronted a drug addiction campaign back home, the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s hotline received a 400% increase in calls while the Salah-starring videos were watched more than eight million times in just three days.
“I will not talk about Salah the player and how much he’s accomplished,” Mohamed Abd Elbasset, a doctor in the central city of Beni Suef, tweeted.
“I will only say that I saw a young man admitting himself to hospital at four o’clock in the morning, looking very sick and asking for help to cure his drug addiction because of the campaign and his love for Salah.”
So what lies behind Salah’s desire to help people?
“He’s not doing this so that people can appreciate him, he is doing this because he went through moments of hardships himself – so he wants to help people,” Mazhar explains.
As a youngster growing up in a village five hours’ drive from Cairo, Salah idolised Mohamed Aboutrika, an Egyptian legend who was named the BBC’s African Footballer of the Year in 2008.
Along with former national captain Ahmed Hassan, Aboutrika was one of the first Egyptian footballers to assist people less fortunate than themselves but the way Salah has embellished this is inspiring change.
“Previously, such donations were restricted to the rich people but regular people have started to realise they have a role towards their community and so are doing it too,” Mazhar adds.
Self-development trainer Amr El Selouky agrees, saying: “Salah is breaking down barriers.
“It’s Egyptian culture to nurture worries until they become blocks for personal development but Salah is one of the first Egyptians to break these in the internet age, when everyone can see his breakthrough achievements.
“He has put us back on the map. I’ve recently been to South Africa, Portugal, Spain, the United States and Morocco and soon as people know I’m Egyptian, they suddenly forget the Pyramids and the Pharaohs and it’s all about Mo!”
Yet, to say that Salah has been delighting all Egyptians would be wide of the mark after the Egyptian FA had to address his dismay at being associated with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov during this year’s World Cup in Russia.
It was a rare moment of disquiet in a year when he has bucked the regular trend of how footballers are seen.
“Sometimes there’s the wrong image of footballers – namely, that footballers are just all about ‘bling’ – but it’s not always like that,” two-time African champion Lauren, the former Arsenal and Cameroon right-back, told BBC Sport.
“Mo Salah is a normal guy and a perfect example to youngsters. He’s also doing a lot for African football because when kids see that Salah can make it [in Europe], they think they can do it as well.
“Once you are professional, you aren’t conscious of this dimension for youngsters back in Africa but it’s a big influence – more than he thinks.”
In Egypt, his popularity has been such this year that when presidential elections were held in March, more than one potential voter spoilt their ballot to nominate a footballer who was not even in the running.
“Everyone was going to vote for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi but I thought this is the least I could do to show my appreciation,” said Abdallah Hani, 20.
“Salah has given us so much – it’s time for us to give back.”
Additional reporting by Piers Edwards.