Mohamed Salah is the world’s footballer of the moment. He’s the English Premier League’s top scorer, and second only to Lionel Messi for the European Golden Shoe. In the 2017-18 season, Salah has dazzled thanks to his speed and intelligence, and along with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, he is part of a lethal trio at Liverpool. But before he blew up, a Colombian by the name of Jaime Pabon played a fundamental part in his development.
Pabon, a Medellín native, a former player and now a trainer, was hired by the Egyptian footballer during his time at Roma from 2015 to 2017, first to assess his strengths and weaknesses, and then, based on that analysis, to design and execute a personalized plan to work on the aspects he needed to bolster and improve.
As a footballer, Pabon played as a forward and a midfielder with Medellín’s two soccer teams, Deportivo Independiente Medellin (DIM) and Atletico Nacional, becoming a local champion with the latter in 1994, and runner-up in the Copa Libertadores in 1995.
Pabon retired as a player in 1999. He began to move around as a coach of youth teams, although he never established himself in professional football: he served as assistant to Joan Jose Pelaez at DIM in 2007-08, and at Bolivar de la Paz in 2008. He was also sports consultant for Hungarian club Lombard, which now plays in the country’s second division.
How did Pabon link up with Salah?
Jaime Pabon keeps very close ties with Francisco Maturana, the legendary Colombian coach who led his country’s national team to the 1990 World Cup in Italy and the 1994 tournament in the United States. Maturana was also managed, among others, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Valladolid. Pabon had worked for Maturana at his Medellin football club and school.
Pabon told Yahoo Sports that when Maturana was a coach in Saudi Arabia – where he remained until 2012 – he met Ramy Abbas Issa, a Colombian-born lawyer of Saudi descent who happens to be Salah’s agent. He also represents another Colombian coach, Reinaldo Rueda, who is now in charge of Chile’s national team.
Maturana, when consulted by Abbas Issa about a personal trainer who could work individually with the Egyptian footballer, recommended Pabon, who then traveled to Rome and moved into a place near Salah’s home.
“I did an initial assessment, analyzed it, and then gave them a report about his strengths and the areas where there was room for improvement.” In that first respect, he picked up that Salah was very quick and made a difference on the field whenever he changed speeds; and that Salah had good shooting technique.
“He took journeys with the ball that lasted too long, we tried to make them shorter, and to make him enter the area on diagonals so that he would be better positioned to score,” remembers Pabon.
Another aspect where he did work for Salah was that “whenever he was about to score, he didn’t make the best decisions. He didn’t breathe. So he was out of breath at the end, after taking such a long time to get there. I recommended to shoot earlier, to look at the ball, to make good choices, with angles that were more difficult for the goalkeepers. We did a lot of repetitions, employing that advice.”
For their training sessions, Salah and his agent customized a pitch in the house where Pabon was living, which was within short distance of the Egyptian’s home, only five minutes away.
When he is asked why Salah, who now plays for Liverpool, wanted to employ a personal coach, Pabon claims that, even though football is a team sport, it relies on the players’ individual performance, and Salah wanted to be more effective as a striker.
“Mohamed was always looking after me, making sure I had everything I needed,” Pabon says. “He and his agent gave me the best treatment.”
When Salah had to attend meetings or travel with Roma, Pabon used the opportunity to learn more about Italian culture. He made good friends in Italy, before continuing his academic training to become a football manager.
The arrangement between Salah and Pabon ended when Salah left for Liverpool. Nowadays, the Colombian is back in his native country, studying, with the hopes of getting a job offer that he likes.
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