Mo Salah's plane and talking Turkey: This week in Middle East football

Mo Salah's plane and talking Turkey: This week in Middle East football
Let's hope the row over using Salah's image on an Egyptian jet doesn't derail his season.
5 min read
01 May, 2018
Superstar Salah has become a cultural icon across the Middle East [Getty]
Mohamed Salah has been facing a major dispute with the Egyptian Football Association only a month and a half ahead of the World Cup in Russia. In fact, the fall-out surrounding what appeared to be the unlicensed use of Salah's image has consumed Egyptian media for days.

So how can a country's FA mistreat its number one football star right before the team's most important moment in decades? The answer is complex, especially if you consider the story's context.

Mohamed Salah is having an extraordinary season. The Egyptian star is enjoying a terrific scoring rate, with 43 goals for Liverpool from 48 matches across all competitions - positioning himself as a worldwide football megastar.

Salah also was in the driving seat of Egypt's World Cup campaign - qualifying for the first time in 28 years - when he scored a brace in his country's decisive match against Congo Brazzaville in November.

Salah has also donated to multiple charity purposes and launched an anti-drugs campaign among Egyptian youth. Until 2017, Salah was Egypt's best player, but in 2018 he metamorphosised into an official International Arab Icon, admired by millions all over the world for making an important cultural impact.

His positive character on the pitch, his relationship with the fans - and the fact that he is socially involved with those in need - is helping combat Islamophobia among European football fans, and in wider society. Fans in the stadium, inspired by his performances, chant their willingness to convert to Islam.

But not all is perfect on Planet Salah. In the past week a dispute between the player's representatives and the Egyptian Football Association has erupted, all over the use of Salah's image.

A few months ago, the Egyptian FA launched a branded aeroplane for the World Cup, using the national team players' images, with Salah being one of them.

The plane is to be used by the team for their trip to Russia this summer, as well for internal flights during the World Cup.

Salah has a sponsorship deal with telecoms firm Vodafone. The problem aroused when it was discovered that it was rival phone company "We", the official sponsor of the Egyptian national team, which provided the jet - and their logo is plastered all over it.

Salah's representative, Ramy Abbas Issa, expressed his client's concern around the situation. Sources close to the player said Salah's exclusive contract with Vodafone included a clause stating any endorsement of a rival telecoms company would result in the player being fined five million Egyptian pounds (around $280,000).

Abbas Issa said he called the FA multiple times since the PR photos of the plane were published online, but received no response. He and Salah then expressed their dissatisfaction publicly on social media.

Egypt's fans, media and even Cairo politicians rallied round the player, forcing the FA to change its stance.

Late on Sunday night, the Egyptian FA declared it would pay any fines or expenses caused to the player, and Salah himself tweeted that a solution might be near at hand.

Despite the mass of public support and the unprofessional treatment by the FA of their brightest star, in legal terms, Salah does not have a clear case on the issue. In manners of players' brand rights, there is no rule that limits the clubs or an FA using images of their players - even if they are committed to different sponsors.

In this way, for example, Lionel Messi is an Adidas athlete, while Barcelona are officially "adopted" by Nike. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the same situation, the other way around.

Time will tell whether this crisis between Egypt's FA and its hero is over, or if the saga will drag on for six weeks before the tournament. 

The battle of Constantinople

This season, the Turkish Super Lig has offered the tightest and the most fascinating title race in all of the Middle East, Europe, and maybe, the world.

Before the 31st match-day, the top four teams in the table, all from Istanbul, had only two points separating first from third.

On Sunday evening, Galatasaray, leading the league on the eve of match-day, hosted third-placed Besiktas for a boiling derby. The two already knew that Istanbul Basaksehir had won a few hours earlier, pushing them to the top of the table. Fenerbahche also hammered Kasimpasa 4-1, using the three points to climb from fourth to third.

The Galatasaray-Besiktas match was a collision between two of the best managers in Turkey, Fatih Terim of Galatasary and Besiktas' Senol Gones, as well as two of Istanbul's most fierce crowds and many quality players on both sides of the pitch.

Galatasaray scored first, after 23 minutes, and won a penalty in the 65th minute. Besiktas were down to 10 men after Dusan Tosic was sent off. But the Turkish league's top scorer, French Bafetimbi Gomis, missed the kick from the spot.

Four minutes later, Cape Verde's Gary Rodrigues notched a second for Galatasaray and guaranteed the Lions another week on top, now one point above Basaksehir, three above arch-rivals Fenerbahche and four from Besiktas.

With just three matches left, the title battle in Turkey is far from decided, but one thing is for sure - the next champions will come from Istanbul, and they will win it only after a serious fight with the other football powers in the city. 

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here