Can the real Mohammad Salah please stand up?

By AFP
Published: June 7, 2018
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AS GOOD AS REAL: In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 20-year-old Ali is frequently stopped in his working-class Hurriya neighbourhood by people wanting a photograph with their idol. PHOTO: AFP

AS GOOD AS REAL: In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 20-year-old Ali is frequently stopped in his working-class Hurriya neighbourhood by people wanting a photograph with their idol. PHOTO: AFP

BAGHDAD: With his black beard, curly hair and football shirt, Iraqi striker Hussein Ali is often mistaken for one of the world’s top players: Egypt’s Mohamed Salah.

In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 20-year-old Ali is frequently stopped in his working-class Hurriya neighbourhood by people wanting a photograph with their idol.

Although he is himself a striker, for the Al-Zawraa club, it is Ali’s likeness to Salah which piques Iraqis’ interest.

“At the first training session, he introduced himself as ‘Hussein Ali’. I replied, ‘No, no, you are Mohamed Salah,” said Ali’s coach Adnan Mohammad.

Back when Salah was playing for AS Roma, Ali was aware of the resemblance but took the comments as “a joke”.

But when the Egyptian shot to global fame in the Premier League — becoming “the number one footballer for all Arabs” according to Ali — his Iraqi doppelganger started to seriously work on his image.

Since then, he has started wearing the red shirt of Salah’s club Liverpool.

“It’s the real shirt, bought from an official supplier,” he said proudly from his small house, where the shutters are closed against the Baghdad heat during the long hours of electricity cuts.

Ali said he paid $40 for the shirt, which he takes carefully from its hanger, while working every day to support his large family and without a wage from playing football.

Lately, the “Mohamed Salah of Iraq” can’t leave his house without being stopped for photographs or approached by football fans who mistake him for the Egyptian star.

“The day before yesterday I was in a mall; the security guards, the shop workers and the clients, everyone wanted to take a photo with me… even the girls!” said Ali.

He attracts similar attention at his own football matches: “When I played against the Lebanese club Al-Ahed, people were taking photos with me for an hour and a half.”

Last month Ali joined a group of supporters in the city centre to watch Salah’s Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

“When Mohamed Salah was injured, there were some who came to see me as if it was me who was suffering,” he said. “In my neighbourhood, over a number of days, people who passed me would say ‘Get well soon’,” he remembered, laughing.

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