EVERY day after school, a 13-year-old Mo Salah would walk a mile in the sweltering Egyptian heat to catch the first of five battered minibuses on a four-hour trip to get to football training.
Then, once he had dazzled coaches in capital Cairo, the ambitious youngster would make the same 75-mile journey back to his village, often not arriving until one in the morning.
Six hours later he would be back in school, ready to repeat his marathon.
It is this incredible dedication that has made the Liverpool striker the game’s latest global superstar and given him a shot at Champions League glory when his side take on Real Madrid in Saturday’s final.
But the record-breaking goalscorer simply says: “That was the price I had to pay. And believe me, maybe if it did not work, things would not have been good for me.”
With 44 goals in 51 games during his debut season on Merseyside, the 25-year-old has been setting the beautiful game alight.
His devastating pace, deft touches and clinical finishing have made him a hero to millions of fans.
But success has not gone to his head.
You will not find the devout Muslim falling out of nightclubs, dating models or showing off pimped-up sports cars.
He has remained refreshingly humble and down to earth.
When a millionaire offered him a villa last October for scoring the goals to take Egypt to their first World Cup for almost 30 years, Mo asked for the money to be donated to his home village of Nagrig instead.
He has also paid to build a new school there, funded ambulances, a mosque and sports centre and donated £330,000 to buy land for a sewage treatment plant.
Years before, when a thief stole cash from his family’s car back in Egypt, Mo stepped in to ask that he not be sent to jail.
Instead, it is claimed Mo gave the thief some money to help him turn his life around and find a job.
Mo once even donated £210,000 to help keep the Egyptian pound afloat as the economy floundered.
So perhaps it is no surprise that during the national elections in March, more than a million people chose him for president — even though his name was not on the ballot paper. He would have come second if it had been.
In a fractured nation where hope is in short supply, his goals are bringing people together.
Hatem Kadous, an Egyptian lawyer in London, said: “He’s very engaged politically and will tweet whenever there’s stuff going on — tributes and peaceful messages.
“He’s managed something no politician has ever done, he has managed to unite the Middle East.
“Moroccans, Tunisians, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Emiratis, Omanis — everyone wants a Salah shirt.”
When the Anfield player, who earns about £90,000 a week, married his childhood sweetheart Magi four years ago, he invited his entire village — thousands of people — to share the joyous day with him.
He will still walk around Nagrig chatting to locals and, when back in Liverpool, has been spotted popping into fish and chip shops and popular attractions, such as the Cavern Club.
As Mo strives for the biggest prize in the club game with Liverpool on Saturday night, he will remember what it means to have next to nothing.
His football education started on Nagrig’s dusty, potholed streets, using a ball made from socks.
Local PE teacher Reda Masoud spotted his talent and recommended him to Premier League team El Mokawloon, based in the capital, Cairo.
Mohamed Abo Hateb, who played with Mo at the club, told Channel 4 documentary A Foot-ball Fairy Tale: “We faced a lot of hardships. We used to take the bus from the village and it was always crowded.
“Sometimes I lifted him up so that he would be able to get in the bus through the window and get a seat for us.”
When Mo could not take the bus, his dad would drive him the 75 miles. Fawzi El Saeyady, the village’s youth centre coach, recalled: “His father was a soccer player. He played in defence.
“His father has taken good care of him. He made great sacrifices for his son.”
Realising these daily treks were too much for the slightly built youngster, who started life as a left back rather than a striker, his father agreed that Mo should live in Cairo close to the training sessions.
Captain Riou, the team’s youth coach, said: “Mo was very competitive. He hated losing and when his team lost, he cried.”
At the age of 19, Mo joined the Swiss team Basel and two years later in 2014 he came to Chelsea.
But he did not get many chances under then manager Jose Mourinho and was loaned out to Italian clubs Fiorentina and Roma.
Even when Liverpool paid£36.9million for him last summer, he was still a relative unknown.
This year he has won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award and the Premier League Golden Boot for the most goals.
Should Liverpool lift the Champions League on Saturday night, he will be favourite to win the Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player — the first time someone other than Ronaldo or Messi would have won it since 2007.
Despite all the fuss, he lives quietly in Cheshire with his wife and daughter Makka, who was named after Islamic holy site Mecca.
And he says his perfect day is to “Stay at home, relax, don’t talk to anyone”. With his film star looks, Mo has become the poster boy for Muslims worldwide.
He posts selfies of him reading the Koran and prays to Allah when he scores — which is a lot.
The Champions League final takes place during the Islamic festival of Ramadan, where believers are meant to fast during daylight hours. Mo will have to decide whether he needs to eat in order to be in prime condition.
Liverpool fans celebrate his religion to the tune of Dodgy’s 1996 hit Good Enough, changing the lyrics to: “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me. If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too.”
But fame has brought its downsides. His family have had to leave Nagrig for London to escape the hordes turning up at their door asking for handouts.
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