Opinions

7 things entrepreneurs can learn from the Egyptian (and Liverpool) footballer Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah’s rise as an international football star has been phenomenal. In last six months, he has helped his national team book a place in the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and taken Liverpool to Champions League final after a very long time.

He has been the winner of different awards and accolades including Premier League Player of the Season and Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year in the last few months. But his biggest achievement was perhaps winning the Premiere League Golden Boot after scoring 32 goals at almost a goal every match that took his team Liverpool to Champions League Final.

Salah in a very short time has become an icon for young Muslims and fans all across the world.

But getting to this point has not been easy for the 25-year-old. From the streets of Nagrig to Anfield in Liverpool, Salah’s journey is full of struggles.

There is so much that one can learn from his life and his rise to fame. I can sense a biopic already.

For now however, I have tried to put together this list of lessons (or whatever you would like to call them) that entrepreneurs can learn from this humble hard-working individual who just keeps bringing smiles to faces of tens of millions of people all across the world.

1) Grit is the most important trait for success

If I were to define Mohamed Salah in one word, it would be grit. From his early days with the local Egyptian club El Mokawloon when he was just 14 years old to Liverpool signing him last year, all his football career (and life) has been about this one quality.

The guy used to take up to five buses for a 9-hour journey (back and forth) five days a week just to train with Mokawaloon (aka Arab Contractors).

In his own words, “[When] I went to Arab Contractors in Cairo, it was a four to four-and-a-half-hour journey five days a week to get to training.”

2 hours at the school. 9 in commute and almost 4 in the club was Salah’s life for three to four years, pretty much every single day.

“I would [be at the school] from 7 am until 9 am. I had [a letter] from my club [saying], ‘Mo can leave school early so he can reach the club at 2 pm to train’. I was leaving [the school] at 9 in the morning, then I would arrive at the training ground at 2 pm or 2:30 pm. Training was always at 3:30 pm or 4 pm. I would finish training at say 6 pm, then I’d arrive [home] at 10 pm or 10.30pm. Then I [would just] eat and sleep and [follow the same routine] the day after.”

This is just one example that shows the level of persistence he had from the very early days of his career. If he was not stubborn enough to take that very long commute every single day and train, he wouldn’t be where he is today. It is his grit that has turned him into one of the best football players in the world. He’s a fighter who just doesn’t give up.

For an entrepreneur, having or (lack of having) grit could make (or break) their startup. You face so many big and small challenges every single day in the journey of building a business that if you don’t have grit and you tend to quit easily, you’ll shut your shop in the first few weeks.

2) Staying humble when successful

“Mohamed Salah is a special talent. I was at the PFA awards last week and he is such a humble guy. He was there from start to finish for the whole evening. He picked up his award and congratulated every single award-winner on the night as well. In the past, I’ve been at awards dinners and the winners have come and gone once they have been given their award. Salah stayed throughout the whole thing to show his respect to the winners and that’s the sort of person he is. A real class act,” wrote Neil Mellor, a Football columnist, in one of his pieces for a local Liverpool publication.

That’s exactly how everyone from his coaches and teammates to fans and countrymen think about Mo Salah, a genuinely humble guy who hasn’t allowed success to get to his head. He is currently one of the best football players in the world, with some touting him as THE best, and when you receive this kind of success and fame at such a young age, it is very easy to lose your mind. It could happen to the best of us but Salah has continued to stay humble.

That has made him one of the most admired athletes in the world. It’s not just the speed and calmness on the field, but his humility off the ground that makes him the person he is.

“The secret of his brilliance? It is his modesty,” Mahmoud Fayez, the Assistant Coach of Egypt’s national team had said in an interview, speaking about Salah.

Entrepreneurs get carried away very easily. I have seen some very humble founders lose their character after raising venture capital or achieving a significant milestone. Success has gotten to their head and this could be the very reason for their downfall in the future because when arrogance replaces humility, you make decision to feed your ego not the business.

3) Adapting to conditions

In 2012, for his first international football club, FC Basel, Salah moved to Switzerland but it wasn’t easy for him.

“It’s very difficult to move to a club on another continent, especially at such a young age. I grew up in Egypt, I knew everything in Egypt but I didn’t know anything in Switzerland. I couldn’t understand any language because I couldn’t speak English or Swiss German. I went there and lived alone. It was a difficult time because I didn’t know what to do.”

But he was able to adapt.

“It was a tough time in the beginning, but I think I was able to change my mind quickly and adapt. I was flexible and I told myself, ‘OK, now I have to deal with this situation or it will be even tougher’. So that’s what I did.”

That is what entrepreneurs are supposed to do. The conditions in which they do business can change anytime and there are so many variables that are beyond their control. The only thing they can do is to adapt to them and adapt quickly.

4) Practice really does make perfect

Even before Salah had joined Mokawaloon (Arab Contractors), he was known to have the skill to be a very good footballer. As explained by those who played with him or watched him play in his village, Mo Salah was very fast on the field. This obviously stands true even today as he has been the fourth fastest player for Liverpool this season.

But to be among the best footballers in the world, he didn’t rely on the skill alone. The Egyptian king as his fans call him has been practicing hard since he started playing football in his childhood.

It’s obvious from his rise as an international football star that practice really does make you perfect.

Without the insane amount of hard-work he has put into practicing for years, he wouldn’t have reached this far.

This is a very important lesson for entrepreneurs. Technology has done us a lot of good but it has also made humans lazier than ever before and this is why many of us (entrepreneurs included) try to look for shortcuts in everything which is good in many cases but when it comes to practice, there are no shortcuts and its importance should not be downplayed.

5) Competition will not always be fair

All eyes were set on Mo Salah last night. Millions of fans in Egypt, England and across the world were hoping that their leading goal scorer who had been scoring at almost a goal per match kind of a rate this season will be able to help them lift the trophy for the first time in more than ten years. But then Ramos happened. The Spanish footballer who captains his national team and Real Madrid ended Salah’s evening with a horrible foul.

With almost 20-25 minutes into the game, the Spanish defender had grabbed Salah chasing the ball and held on to his arm. Both of them tumbled to the ground with Salah landing awkwardly on his shoulder. He could be seen in discomfort but with some treatment from the physios he got up, played further for a couple of minutes before walking off the pitch in tears. It was later announced that he has dislocated his shoulder.

What’s interesting however is that Ramos did not even get a yellow card for this and many analysts on TV also did not suspect foul play here, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

This is how unfair competition in business could also be sometimes. They could try to bring you down with whatever it may take without caring about ethics or sometimes even the law. And you should be prepared for it.

6) Learning never stops

Bob Bradley, Egypt’s former head coach speaking about Salah in an interview, once said, “What you see with Salah is someone who always wants to keep getting better.”

He did not mean getting better at football only but as a person as well.

Apart from football, Salah had to learn a lot of complimentary skills to get to this point.

When he went to Switzerland to join Basel FC, he could not communicate properly because he didn’t speak Swiss or even English back in those days.

“I started English courses and had some classes to help me communicate. They were going well, but after a while I had to stop because I wasn’t getting enough time to complete them after training. When I came to England with Chelsea, I was able to improve my English a little bit. Then I obviously went to Italy and learned Italian, which I can speak well,” he had said in an interview.

Learning English and other complimentary skilled must have helped a great deal in improving his confidence. Imagine a 20-something in dressing room of an international club who could not understand or speak much. That would just kill anyone’s confidence. But he used it as an opportunity to learn. And he continues to do so.

“Now I am back in England to improve my English, although now I think it is fine,” he had continued in the same interview.

Learning for an entrepreneur (in fact for anyone) should never stop. Not only they should continue to improve things they’re good at but get out of their comfort zones to try and learn new skills. Even if they don’t need these new skills today, they could prove to be useful in the future.

7) Making peace with the fact that you cannot control results

Even when you’re doing everything right, results still may not be in your favor. That is what happened last night. Salah had a phenomenal season, scoring 32 goals for Liverpool that won him the Premiere League Golden Boot and took Liverpool to the final of Champions League after 13 years. Thanks to Salah and his brilliant form, Liverpool were just one step away from being crowned as champions after the wait of 13 long years.

When the play started, Liverpool dominated the first 20 minutes by attacking. Even though Real Madrid had possession most of the time, Liverpool was way better in terms of attacking their opponent’s goalpost.

“Liverpool mustered nine shots in the first-half with Mohamed Salah on the pitch, and none after he was subbed off. This was the moment his Champions League dream was crushed.”

It was heartbreaking to see Salah leave the field in tears. The man who had given it all and was just one step away from taking Liverpool to glory was forced off the field due to a game-ending injury. Certainly, not something he could’ve controlled.

As an entrepreneur or businessman, you can control your efforts but you have no control over outcome and the sooner you make peace with it, the better for you and your business.

Not sure if this qualifies to be an item in the list but he is also known for giving it back to the community or paying in forward, as we call in the entrepreneurial world so that is perhaps another thing entrepreneurs can learn from him.

Salah is not just a football player. He’s a source of inspiration for millions across the world and there’s no reason why he can’t inspire you to do better in your entrepreneurial journey. Good luck!

Zubair Naeem Paracha

Contributor at MENAbytes
An HR Consultant based in Riyadh who has always been passionate about tech and startups. Currently trying to build his own startup, Qraar. You can reach him on Linkedin,  Twitter or zubair [at] menabytes [dot] com.

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