Pep Lijnders, the Liverpool assistant manager, says Mohamed Salah could not be more committed to the Egypt national team after accusations he ‘plotted his departure’ from the Africa Cup of Nations.
Salah’s absence due to injury until at least the Afcon final, should his country make it that far, has led to scathing criticism from Egypt legend Ahmed Hassan.
The 48-year-old, who played for his country 184 times, has taken exception to Salah returning to Merseyside for treatment on his hamstring, which could take 28 days to heal.
“I’ve always backed Salah and I was very happy with his presence as captain of the Egyptian national team,” said Hassan, who helped Egypt win four Afcon titles between 1998 and 2010. “I had no problems with what he said, but it turned out that he was plotting his departure from the Egypt camp.
“Do the Afcon regulations allow a player to leave the national team’s camp and come back again? He had the possibility of bringing in someone from Liverpool’s medical staff to be with him during the competition. Again, he is the captain. He should stay with the team no matter what, even if he only had one leg to stand on.
“He even said himself that it’s the Egyptian national team, not Salah’s national team, and this is true. We have confidence in all the players who are there and they must fight for the title.”
That extraordinary outburst prompted clarity on the seriousness of Salah’s hamstring injury from his representative, Ramy Abbas, and a strong rebuttal and defence from Liverpool.
‘You should never doubt the commitment of Salah’
“You should never doubt the commitment of Mo Salah,” Lijnders said. “I never met a guy, and also a human being, who is more committed to the life of being a professional football player.
“I know the country is devastated to lose him. We were devastated to hear that he got injured. He played the first game, scored, assisted, the captain, a massive importance of course.
“But the only reason why their medical team and our team decided for him to come back is to give him the best possible chance to be available in the final if Egypt reach the final.”
At Liverpool’s training ground, the 31-year-old is considered an ‘Egyptian James Milner’ because of his dedication to being fit and available, the first into training and the last out of the gym. His appearance record for Egypt is exemplary, just short of 100 caps.
Salah back in three weeks ‘if everything goes right’
Lijnders believes the mixed messages when Salah was first injured – the full extent of the setback required further tests – led to many doubting how serious it was.
“I think that because of the first message that came out, saying it would only be a few days one week, then they made a detailed scan and it came out that there is a proper tear in his hamstring that means the expected return to playing will be three or four weeks if everything goes smooth and goes right,” Lijnders said.
“It will go smooth and it will go right because we have treated his body before. What I am really happy about is that the medical team of Egypt and the medical team of Liverpool Football Club really worked together and were in close contact to make a decision. It is an example of how international football and club football should operate to put the player in the centre and not targets of everyone. Then it becomes a conflict of interest.
“How it works now is all of us made the decision that is best for him and in the best stable environment, knowing the people, and having time and focus on the process.”
On more positive injury news for Liverpool, Scotland captain Andrew Robertson is back in training and is in line to return to the squad for the League Cup semi-final, second leg against Fulham on Wednesday.