FC Basel’s focus on producing Swiss talent has been the nucleus of their success in recent seasons, but a change of focus at St. Jakob-Park has started to happen.
Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri, Napoli midfielder Gökhan İnler and former Liverpool defender Philipp Degen remain prime examples of the success its youth system has achieved in recent years.
Despite the core of their squad being predominantly Swiss, manager Murat Yakin is now starting to concentrate on and reap the rewards of Basel’s extensive scouting system by focusing on lesser-known areas of South America and North Africa, with added attention on Egypt in particular.
And it’s certainly working. Yakin’s side recorded a surprise Champions League victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September and could have made it two wins out of two if it wasn’t for Schalke midfielder Julian Draxler’s breathtaking strike on Matchday 2 of the competition.
Not only did the famous result in West London announce Basel’s emergence onto the European scene, but it also drew attention to a certain player whose rise over the past season has seen him linked with both Tottenham and Serie A giants Inter Milan.
Egyptian international Mohamed Salah Ghaly was unearthed by Yakin’s scouting network in 2011 following a handful of impressive displays for Egyptian Premier League side Arab Contractors, where he scored 11 goals in 41 appearances.
The 21-year-old was named African football’s Most Promising Talent at the 2012 CAF Awards after scoring three in four at the London Olympic games.
Three months on, Salah scored twice in a pre-season friendly for Egypt’s Under-23 side against Basel. His 45-minute cameo performance did enough to win him a seven-day trial with the Swiss giants and he was subsequently signed a month later after agreeing terms on a four-year contract.
Salah’s first season in Switzerland saw him settle into the Basel squad with little trouble. The culture shock of moving from North Africa to Europe proved no obstacle to a player who assisted his team all the way to the Europa League semi-finals, where they were eventually defeated home and away by Chelsea.
However, it was Salah’s two goals and five assists in the Europa League that finally made other teams pinpoint him as Basel’s main creative and attacking spark. Having netted his first European goal in the quarter-final first leg against Spurs, the skillful winger went onto to lift the Swiss League and runners up in the Swiss Cup.
El-Gharbia born Salah continued where he left off from last season after scoring a wonder-goal in a World Cup qualifier against Zimbabwe in June. It prompted Egypt boss Bob Bradley to dub him the “perfect professional player” and the “future of Egyptian football”.
You would envisage those words potentially damaging such a young player, putting added pressure on him before his career has even taken off, but Salah emphasised Bradley’s comments in true fashion by scoring 10 goals for club and country so far this season.
By no means is Salah a striker, yet his consistency in front of goal is one of the main attributes of his game. With 17 goals in 24 appearances for the Egyptian national team, Salah’s prolificacy puts him ahead of more traditional wingers and makes him the catalyst of each Basel attack.
Salah is the perfect mixture between a winger and a forward. He looks lightweight yet his direct running and mesmerising footwork has bamboozled fullbacks across Europe. Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole struggled against Salah’s deceivingly quick pace in their Champions League group game last month.
Although predominantly left-footed, Salah is ambidextrous and this is what makes him one of Europe’s most prodigious talents. His unpredictable solo runs are a key feature of his game and the reason many defenders find him so difficult to stop.
Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder behind the two strikers or on either wing, every pass Salah makes is completed with an instantaneous flick of a switch and his opponents so far this season have been unable to stop his creativity in the final third.
In terms of weaknesses, Salah’s defensive game needs fine-tuning. Many wingers forget to track-back and although he isn’t one of them, he does have a tendency at leaving Basel vulnerable on the counter attack after going on a mazy run. Another considerable weakness is his finishing. He could easily score 20-30 goals a season if he improves his composure in front of goal.
But regardless of his minor downfalls, Salah remains hot property in Europe right now.
From a relative unknown Egyptian youngster to an established European winger, Mohamed Salah has the world at his feet and will hope to live up to Bob Bradley’s words by becoming the poster boy of Egyptian, and maybe even European football. It’s just a matter of time.