Egypt head coach Javier Aguirre has told Mohamed Salah that leading his country to Africa Cup of Nations glory will significantly boost his prospects of winning the Ballon d’Or.
Pharaohs forward Salah approaches the tournament full of confidence after lifting the Champions League trophy at the end of a fine season with Liverpool.
Seven-time champions Egypt kick off their campaign on Friday against Group A opponents Zimbabwe in Cairo.
And Mexican Aguirre believes there is added incentive for Salah to impress on home soil.
“He’s helped me with the group since the beginning; he’s a kind of leader,” the 60-year-old told UAE newspaper The National.
“I’m really happy with him because he had an extraordinary season with his club.
“So I say, ‘OK Mohamed, if you’re able to help us win the African Cup, for sure you’re going to be in the last three or four for the Ballon d’Or’.
“He’s a very nice guy, a humble guy. He’s sincere, he jokes with everybody. We have a real normal relationship.”
Egypt, who last won the competition in 2010, are pre-tournament favourites.
Holders Cameroon had been selected as hosts when former Atletico Madrid and Mexico boss Aguirre was appointed following Egypt’s dismal 2018 World Cup campaign.
But the tournament, which has expanded from 16 teams to 24 and will be played during the European summer for the first time, was later switched due to concerns from the Confederation of African Football about Cameroon’s suitability.
Aguirre admits he is under severe pressure to deliver to an expectant nation and accepts that anything less than lifting the trophy will be insufficient.
“I have a lot of responsibility — the head coach of this big project,” he added.
“In Egypt football is almost a religion. Around 100 million people here, they all love the game. It’s incredible.
“Now, we have a lot of pressure. It’s not enough for the semi-final, the final, nothing. It’s the cup. All the people are asking for that.”
Zimbabwe coach Sunday Chidzambwa expects a tough opening fixture.
“We know how strong Egypt are especially when they play at home and the fans are on their side supporting them throughout the competition,” he noted.
“Now that we are in the AFCON group stages, we will work hard to get the best possible results in all our games.”
The full fixtures, Group pairings:
DAY 1: 21/06/19
8:00pm – Egypt vs Zimbabwe
2:30pm – Congo DR vs Uganda
DAY 2: 22/06/19
5:00pm – Nigeria vs Burundi
8:00pm – Guinea vs Madagascar
DAY 3: 23/06/19
2:30pm – Morocco vs Namibia
5:00pm – Senegal vs Tanzania
8:00pm – Algeria vs Kenya
DAY 4: 24/06/19
2:30pm – Côte d’Ivoire vs South Africa
5:00pm – Tunisia vs Angola
8:00pm – Mali vs Mauritania
DAY 5: 25/06/19
5:00pm – Cameroon vs Guinea-Bissau
8:00pm – Ghana vs Benin
DAY 6: 26/06/19
2:30pm – Nigeria vs Guinea
5:00pm – Uganda vs Zimbabwe
8:00pm – Egypt vs Congo DR
DAY 7: 27/06/19
2:30pm – Madagascar vs Burundi
5:00pm – Senegal vs Algeria
8:00pm – Kenya vs Tanzania
DAY 8: 28/06/19
2:30pm – Tunisia vs Mali
5:00pm – Morocco vs Côte d’Ivoire
8:00pm – South Africa vs Namibia
DAY 9: 29/06/19
2:30pm – Mauritania vs Angola
5:00pm – Cameroon vs Ghana
8:00pm – Benin vs Guinea-Bissau
DAY 10: 30/06/19
4:00pm – Burundi vs Guinea
4:00pm – Madagascar vs Nigeria
7:00pm – Zimbabwe vs Congo DRC
7:00pm – Uganda vs Egypt
DAY 11: 01/07/19
4:00pm – Namibia vs Côte d’Ivoire
4:00pm – South Africa vs Morocco
7:00pm – Tanzania vs Algeria
7:00pm – Kenya vs Senegal
DAY 12: 02/07/19
4:00pm – Guinea-Bissau vs Ghana
4:00pm – Benin vs Cameroon
7:00pm – Angola vs Mali
7:00pm – Mauritania vs Tunisia
1 Congo DR
1 Côte d’Ivoire
4 South Africa