CAIRO, Egypt, Aug 12 – As Mohamed Salah took to the field for the start of the new Premier League season, fans in his native Egypt prayed Sunday for another miracle campaign from the talismanic striker.
Two dozen members of the local Liverpool supporters club gathered in a Cairo cafe to clap, cheer and celebrate as their hero got off to a winning start some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) away.
“We used to struggle to find places to watch Liverpool play,” die-hard Reds fan Seif Mahdi, 18, told AFP.
“But now everywhere shows it — you just have to tell them you want to watch Salah play.”
The reason for the excitement is obvious — last season the Egyptian star smashed a string of records as he scored 44 goals for his English club.
Those performances propelled Salah into the elite of world football and helped cement his status as an icon back home.
Now his image stares down at the inhabitants of Cairo from adverts plastered along the traffic-clogged streets of the capital city.
His popularity has also helped turn Liverpool from a team few Egyptians knew much about to the most talked about foreign club in this country of some 100 million people.
That’s a strange feeling for the Liverpool fan club members who cheered on the team long before Salah’s arrival.
The supporters association in Egypt now boasts over 12,000 members.
“Before, I was unique and special when I told people who I supported,” said business student Omar Nabil, 24.
“But now Egyptians are really supporting Liverpool.”
– Shirts sold out –
Sports shop owner Karim Nasr has seen the surge in Liverpool’s popularity first hand.
At his store in the Cairo district of Maadi, the club’s shirts are the only ones that have run out of stock.
“Over the summer months we sold more than 1,000 of them,” he said.
“And everyday we are getting requests for the new shirt that we are still waiting to receive in the shop.”
Right now, Egyptian football fans might be in need of a pick up after a summer that once looked so promising turned out to be highly forgettable.
After qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years hopes were high that Salah could help them make an impact in Russia.
But a devastating injury in the Champions League final left Salah unfit and Egypt eventually crashed out after three losses.
“People felt huge expectation for the World Cup and so were very disappointed,” said Hatem Maher, sports editor at Ahram Online website.
“There was even some criticism of Salah, which is rare, but this has faded now and people are excited about the new season.”
After watching the opening game of the new campaign, the Liverpool fans at the Cairo cafe were even more hopeful that their man could repeat the feats of last term.
And maybe even go one better — by helping Liverpool finally win the Premier League title.
Salah tapped in the club’s first goal of the season to set his team on its way to a comfortable 4-0 victory over West Ham.
“He’s not a one-season wonder — he is top class,” said Liverpool fan Mahdi.
“Who knows, maybe he will do it again.”