Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah is helping to break down Islamophobia in his adopted home, according to the Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram.
The Egypt international had a huge impact on the field in his debut season at Anfield, scoring 44 goals as the team finished fourth in the Premier League and were Champions League runners-up.
But his influence was felt just as significantly off it as a high-profile Muslim, energising the local Arabic community and helping improve inclusivity.
“I think what Salah’s done is what John Barnes did for the black community in the ‘80s,” Rotheram told a BBC Radio 5 Live documentary Mo Salah: Football is Life.
“He’s starting to break down barriers. Some of them (Liverpool fans) probably don’t fully appreciate the songs they sing about Mo Salah but to have that breakdown of Islamophobia caused by one person is an absolutely phenomenal achievement.
“His legacy will be much more about what’s happened off the field as well as what’s happened on the pitch.”
Press Association Sport spoke to members of Liverpool’s Arabic community last month and discovered the extent to which the Salah effect has filtered out from Anfield.
Eleven-year-old Rawan Zadeh, the daughter of a British Iraqi, for example, was inspired to take up football, having never played before, because of the Egyptian.
“My daughter wasn’t a football fan but now she is a fan of Mohamed Salah and his team,” Rawan’s mum Malath Ali told Press Association Sport.
“She has changed completely and started playing football as well at school as a result.
“I’ve always encouraged her to play any kind of sport, it doesn’t matter if you are wearing a (head) scarf, so now she likes to play football.
“I feel as if he has an influence on the kids.”
Zane Abdo, Muslim adviser and chaplain to the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, has seen how Salah has changed perceptions.
“It is like what Muhammad Ali did in the boxing world, albeit very different people, in terms of getting people to accept who he is and accept the name,” he told Press Association Sport.
“Muhammad Ali and Mohamed Salah – and Mo Farah – have all done that. It challenges a lot of the stereotypes.”