For the last five years, teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have captured the hearts of Liverpool fans with their sizzling play and world-class talent. As teammates, these two Africans playing in the English Premier League have accomplished the most incredible club feat a soccer player can achieve by winning the 2018 champions league, among many other achievements. But last weekend, Mane and Salah from Senegal and Egypt respectively, competed against each other in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
Mane’s Senegal triumphed over Salah’s Egypt to secure Senegal’s first African Cup of Nations trophy 4-2 in penalty kicks. Salah and Mane are arguably the two most loved African stars in world football, so meeting as opponents in the final of Africa’s most prominent cup was such a befitting way to end Africa’s largest domestic tourist event. Salah and Mane’s global popularity further brought attention to the tournament to new heights.
While the endless accomplishments and skills Salah and Mane have are great, their personality and work off the pitch is what makes them even more loved by fans. Salah and Mane are known for their countless philanthropic acts and their unwavering desire to give back to their home countries. Sean Jacobs, a professor of international relations at the New School, the founder and editor of the website Africa is a Country and the author of a newsletter about soccer writes to the New York Times, “…Mane or Salah, return to their home countries to take part in matches for which the financial and professional rewards are negligible compared with what they get playing for one of the most popular and best compensated clubs in the world”.
Salah’s philanthropy has been felt the most in his hometown of Nigrig, Egypt where 65% live in abject poverty and lack essential resources such as education and medical facilities. To try to alleviate that, Salah has donated his time and money to build a school and a hospital. Salah also founded The Mohamed Salah Foundation which donated £2.5 million to the National Cancer Institute of Egypt, as well as donated funds to multiple hospitals and advocated for the prevention of exporting stray cats and dogs by the Egyptian government.
Perhaps the best example showing how empathetic a person Mohamed Salah is, is the story of when his family house was robbed, back when he was still playing in Alexandria, Egypt. The thief that robbed Salah’s house was caught two days after his crime, and naturally, Salah’s father wanted to press charges. Not only did Salah ask his father to drop the case, but he also gave the thief money and tried to help him find a job. He is a remarkable human being who understands the poverty and hardships the people in his country go through. His humility is part of what makes him so loved in Egypt and the world over. In total, it has been estimated that Salah has donated and raised an approximate staggering £250 million.
Salah’s contemporary Sadio Mane has equally done an incredible feat of philanthropy in his home country of Senegal. Last summer, Mane donated $693,000 to fund a hospital in his village, Bambali. Before this act of generosity, the town did not have a hospital. Mane has donated around $14 million of his salary to the Bambali community. He stole the hearts of people the world over when responding to photos that went viral of him holding his cracked iPhone, despite his ultra-high net worth status by saying “Why would I want ten Ferraris, 20 diamond watches and two jet planes? What would that do for the world? I starved, I worked in the fields, I played barefoot and I didn’t go to school. Now I can help people. I prefer to build schools and give poor people food or clothing. I have built schools [and] a stadium; we provide clothes, shoes and food for people in extreme poverty. In addition, I give 70 euros per month to all people from a very poor Senegalese region in order to contribute to their family economy. I do not need to display luxury cars, luxury homes, trips and even planes. I prefer that my people receive a little of what life has given me.”
That kind of humility and thought process is not just for show. He walks into games still holding his old, cracked iPhone and his kindness is on full display during game time, peppered with his gigantic smile. He is known to award ball boys and fans his game-worn jersey and hugs after each match. The modesty with which Mane carries himself is a rarity for an athlete of his pedigree and maintaining the cultural values he had before he attained super success is quite extraordinary.
Another commonality that the pair of 29-year-olds share, even though they hail from opposite ends of the continent, is their commitment to their faith. Both are devout Muslims, and their global visibility in the world of football which has always battled the scourge of racism and Islamophobia has had tremendous impact in sensitization around religious tolerance in the beautiful game.
Last weekend, while African soccer fans were captivated by Senegal’s historical AFCON first win over Egypt which has claimed the title seven times prior, there was more won for the African diaspora as a whole. With the whole world watching, these two humble African soccer warriors showed the world that as bright as their stars shine, they never forget to shine some light on their countrymen.
Neamen Battai is a freelance writer and sports enthusiast. He spent two years studying communications and loves spreading positive news about athletes.