After starring for Arab Contractors, Salah made the move to Europe in 2012 on the back of his hugely successful showing at the Olympics. FC Basel in Switzerland was his destination as he moved continents for the first time…
It was very difficult. That’s what I can say, 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 didn’t know where I could pick up my food or anything.
I went there and lived alone. It was a difficult time because I didn’t know what to do. We’d finish training and I’d have 15 hours until I was back at training, with 10 of them to sleep, so I’d just go for walks around the streets for a few hours, then go back to the hotel.
When I got back to the hotel, I’d have no channels I could watch – no Egyptian channels on the TV! So it was a tough time in the beginning, but I think I was able to change in 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.
I was there alone, but all the time I was thinking about improving myself and trying to become different to all the other players, or other Egyptian players. That’s what was always in my mind and, as I said, that’s why I was able very quickly to change my mind.
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 learnt Italian, which I can speak well – and now I am back in England to improve my English, although now I think it is fine!
On the pitch, it was a step up for me – most of all in the Champions League. Playing in that tournament was unbelievable and one of the reasons I wanted to join Basel. In my first year there, we didn’t make the group stages because we lost in the qualifying round.
But we had a really good Europa League run that season, reaching the semi-finals. I personally also did well in the competition; I think I made five or six assists and was one of the leading assist-makers in the competition.
I was very happy, but I was determined to help us get back in the Champions League – and we did the following season.
What I can say is Basel is a fantastic club. Absolutely fantastic. I have a good relationship even now with the president of the club, the ex-president and everyone there. They are still my friends and I love them so much.
I always look out for their results to see how they’re doing, especially because there is one Egyptian player there who is my friend – Omar Gaber. We are very close and we talk to each other every day.
They provide a brilliant base for any African player to start in Europe. It is a big club, everything is fine organisationally, they’re very professional and I played Champions League and Europa League.
Basel is a huge step in my career so far. 100 per cent, without Basel I wouldn’t be the player I am now. 100 per cent.