Not too long ago, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah was tipped to become the breakout star of the 2018 World Cup. Now multiple reports are emerging suggesting that the fleet-footed Liverpool winger, who injured his shoulder last month in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, may be on the verge of quitting the national team altogether after becoming embroiled in a political imbroglio in Chechnya where the Egypt squad was based.
The controversy stems from a photo that surfaced before the tournament began of Salah locking hands with Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov is a controversial figure, particularly for comments he has directed towards homosexuals and for the hard-line, strict Islamic rule he has enforced on the Chechnyan people since taking power in the Russian Republic in 2004.
The photo of the Liverpool star standing hand-in-hand with the bearded, ultraconservative Muslim leader was taken when Kadyrov paid a visit to Egypt’s training camp in the Chechnyan capital of Grozny.
Kadyrov went on to proclaim that Salah had been granted honorary Chechnyan citizenship.
“Mohamed Salah is an honorary citizen of the Chechen Republic! That’s right! I gave Mohamed Salah a copy of the order and a pin at a celebratory dinner that I gave in honor of the Egyptian team,” wrote Kadyrov in a social media post.
Images also surfaced of a smiling Salah sitting alongside Kadyrov as he made a speech in a ceremony in which the leader, who enjoys Kremlin backing but is currently under U.S. sanctions, later pinned a Chechen flag on the player’s shirt.
لبت بعثة المنتخب الوطني مساء اليوم دعوة الرئيس رمضان قادريوف رئيس جمهورية الشيشان على تناول العشاء في القصر الرئاسي ، وذلك في ختام إقامتها بمدينة جروزني عاصمة الشيشان كمقر إقامة وتدريب لها خلال مشاركتها في بطولة كأس العالم . pic.twitter.com/MVxOiCfMfz
— EFA.eg (@EFA) June 22, 2018
According to the reports, Salah has since grown uncomfortable with the criticisms directed at him since the emergence of the photo and the perception that he’s been used as a political pawn. After a breakout season with Liverpool in which he shattered the Premier League goal-scoring record for a single season, Salah has arguably become the most high-profile Muslim athlete in the world.
The optics of being pictured smiling alongside the Muslim fundamentalist, conservative Chechnyan leader with a long rap sheet of alleged human rights violations and brutality against his political enemies, has brought unwanted controversy down on the amiable, likable Salah. So much so, that he now seems to be reassessing his future with the Egyptian national team.
Before the World Cup’s outset, Egypt was considered a strong contender to advance out of Group A. But Salah’s injury in the Champions League final relegated him to the bench in Egypt’s opening loss to Uruguay and severely hampered his performance in the Pharoah’s second match, when they were hammered by host nation Russia.
Already effectively eliminated ahead of its final match against Saudi Arabia, Egypt now faces the very real possibility of losing its star player at the conclusion of the tournament.
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