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Rising prominence of Muslim players in the Premiership

26th Jan 2018
Rising prominence of  Muslim players in the Premiership

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Arsenal’s Mesut Özil have been integral for their clubs this season

Harun Nasrullah

Twenty-six years ago the English Premier League featured one Muslim footballer, Spur’s Spanish midfielder Mohammed Ali Amar who played under the name Nayim. Today it is home to over fifty (first team) Muslim players from eighteen countries. As the number of Muslim players has surged in England’s top division so has the pedigree of players.

In 1992 Nayim scored 18 goals in 144 appearances, today Liverpool winger and newly crowned African Player of the Year, Mohamed Salah, is the league’s second top scorer with 17 goals in 21 league games for the Reds this season.

To put things into perspective Salah has scored more league goals than Real Madrid’s strikers Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Isco and Marco Asensio combined, those four brilliant players have amassed 14 goals between them – three less than Salah’s tally.

Salah named November Player of the Month is also the first player to score 15 goals in a season for Liverpool since Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. But the Egyptian is not the only high profile Muslim player showcasing blistering form for Jürgen Klopp side.

Senegal international and 2017 African Player of the Year runner-up Sadio Mané enjoyed a sensational first year on Merseyside, defying those who criticised his £30m-plus transfer fee.
Mané’s form was recognised in the voting for this year’s prestigious Ballon d’Or award. The 25-year-old striker has been ranked as the world’s 23rd best player, ahead of big names such as Dries Mertens, Edin Dzeko, Mats Hummels, Jan Oblak, and Radamel Falcao.

Salah and Mané have been vocal about their religion. “I won’t touch alcohol,” insists Mané. “Religion is very important to me. I respect the rules of Islam and I pray five times a day, always. There was no conflict between religion and the fact that I wanted to play football. I was brought up correctly and in the right way and my parents are very proud of the fact that I am a professional footballer.”

The sight of Salah and Mané celebrating their goals with a sujood [prayer] has become the norm in Anfield. They are not the only Muslim duo to make a big impact. Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is home to a familiar scene involving German World Cup winners Mesut Özil and Shkodran Mustafi praying, a ritual the duo carry out before every game. Özil, a third-generation Turkish-German, has found his best form this season for Arsenal, shining in a series of matches.

Since arriving from Madrid in 2013, Özil has netted 27 goals and recorded 47 assists in 134 league appearances. After struggling with consistency early in his Arsenal career, Özil was named their Player of the Season in a vote by Arsenal fans last year.

Özil, who is out of contract with Arsenal in the summer, has attracted the attention of a number of Europe’s top clubs including Barcelona, Man United and Chelsea.

Man United’s Paul Pogba has begun to show his best form under José Mourinho after missing with a hamstring injury, during his three months lay-off earlier this season. United surrendered top spot in the league and slipped 8 points off the pace being set by Man City. Pogba, the third most expensive footballer in the world, shared images of his pilgrimage to Makkah with his 20 million Instagram followers.

Riyad Mahrez became arguably the most influential Muslim player in this history of the Premiership after helping Leicester evolve from a struggling team fighting relegation to title winners in 2016. The Algerian was named Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year that year having scored 17 goals and assisted with 11 others. He capped the most successful period of his career by winning the 2016 African Player of the Year award.

The 27-year-old has seven goals and assists apiece in the Premier League this season, re-finding his 2016 form for the Foxes. His resurgence has caught the attention of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United.

All but one of the Premier Leagues 20 clubs have at least one Muslim player, however, with the exception of Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury and Bournemouth’s Lewis Grabban, British Muslims remain under-represented in the Premier League.

The low number of British Muslim players is linked to the low number of South Asians playing top-flight football. But with Grabban linked to a move to Championship sides Wolves and Aston Villa in the January transfer window, the number of British Muslims in the Premier league will be halved.

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