Mohamed Salah: Ex-Basel boss Heiko Vogel remembers “the gentle killer”
Heiko Vogel was initially unimpressed with the then 20-year-old forward: “He was so bad in training, we wondered if he had a twin brother!”
The transition from Egypt to Europe wasn’t an easy one for Mohamed Salah – as the player has freely admitted on a number of occasions. A different culture, a language you barely understand… Basel, Salah’s first club outside of his homeland, could not have been more removed from Al-Mokawloon Al-Arab – the club where he’d spent his teenage years.
Salah’s first few days at the club left a lot to be desired, so much so that assistant coach Heiko Vogel was left wondering whether they’d made the right decision in signing him...
Salah gets into his stride at Basel
In an interview with Goal and SPOX, Vogel recalled how Salah blossomed during his first week at Basel - the club he joined just days before his 20th birthday: "He wasn't nervous. He was confident; it was a new world for him. He had to acclimatise in the truest sense of the word. He came to us from a climate - North Africa. It's always difficult when you get into an environment where you do not really understand the language. [Director of Sport] Georg [Heitz] and I told him: 'Listen, just train as you like - we've already made our decision anyway'. Then he trained on the first day; everyone watched the session; [he was so poor] we wondered if he might have a twin brother! The second day was a bit better, but not good. Gegge and I had already been talking him up for the tiniest things, saying stuff like: 'did you see that pass!? And then came the third day... He just destroyed everything, he was really unstoppable”.
Salah showed Vogel that he isn’t the kind of player who peaks early then fades, but more of a slow burner. “Rarely have I seen such a dominant appearance - it was absolutely extraordinary. He was so agile, so explosive. As soon as he had the ball on his left foot, it was a goal. But Momo always had an eye for his team mates as well,” the German coach remembered. “After that performance everyone knew why we wanted to sign him”.
Liverpool's Egyptian King
Salah went on to win the Swiss Super League with Basel in his first season and his talents were spotted by Chelsea, who signed him in the January 2014 transfer window. Loan deals to Fiorentina and Roma followed, the latter signing him on a permanent deal in 2016. But it was at Liverpool where the Egyptian really came into his own. Things have been going so well for him at Anfield that he is one of the 10 candidates for this year’s The Best award and in June, he became the first Egyptian player to win the Champions League. And in spite of it all, he remains down-to-earth. “The nice thing is, I met Momo last year and he has not changed at all. That's outstanding,” Vogel added, “If you knew him... he is not a world star, he has such a gentle character. It was always clear to me that he is an outstanding player, but whether he had the mentality? I didn't know that for certain. Momo is a gentle killer”.