Hull City loanee Ahmed Salam was delighted to round off his season-long loan at Windsor Park by winning the Irish League title with the Blues last week and believes the club fully deserved the world record 56th championship success.
“It feels unreal, there is nothing like it. It’s hard to put into words but lifting that trophy is one of the best feelings ever.
“I think we totally deserved to win the title. We’ve had tough times this season where we’ve had a number of players missing through injuries and whatever else and we’ve just stuck together and managed to get results which is the most important thing. The fans have also been brilliant with me and I am thankful for their support.”
Initially sent on loan by then Hull City manager, former Linfield midfielder Grant McCann – who has since taken over at Peterborough United – Ahmed joined along with young forward Billy Chadwick to aid both players’ development. Unfortunately, an ACL injury in November ended Chadwick’s season and his loan spell, as he returned to England. Ahmed believes Billy – who scored six goals in 20 appearances - made a positive contribution in his couple of months at the club, and the Egyptian also believes it was a very beneficial loan move for himself.
“I had a short spell on loan at Gainsborough two years ago which was cut short because of the Covid outbreak. This spell at Linfield however felt like my first proper ‘Right, you’re here to play and you’re here to win’ moment. Coming here on loan has been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, particularly being in an environment where everyone has a winning mentality. That’s good to have at a young age, going into every game knowing that you need to win.
“Obviously, I moved here with Billy Chadwick but he got injured and went back so I was living on my own. It was tough at the start but the lads here have been brilliant with me and I’ve felt comfortable here. Certainly, I think this side of it in terms of moving away and living alone has helped me mature as a person.
“Every single player played their part in our title success including Billy. When he was here in the first few months of the season he chipped in with goals and assists, and his presence caused problems for opposition teams. I actually think he was missed at a time when we went on a little spell where he had injuries in attack. I’m happy we could get it over the line for people like Billy, Trai Hume and Matt Green who moved on during the season but played their part.”
21 year-old Salam scored four goals in 38 appearances for Linfield during his loan spell and believes the winning mentality throughout the club has given him great grounding as a young player with time on his side.
“I feel like I’ve played a lot here this season. The manager put a lot of trust in me and gave me opportunities and even if you don’t play, you are still made to feel a part of the group. You have to give your all and try to make a positive contribution, whether you’re starting or coming on as a substitute because it’s all about the team and being successful. You always have to be ready when called upon.
“With the characters here, you quickly learn that you have to play every game like it’s your last and you must win. I remember when I first arrived and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is serious!’
You can see every time we play and every time we score how passionate these players are. You can tell 100% why these players win trophies and why they are league champions. Given how the club go about things, I can see why Linfield is so successful.”
Salam – who was raised in England by his Egyptian parents – enjoyed his loan spell and had praise for Linfield manager David Healy who utilised and trusted him in a number of roles throughout the season.
“This club is now a part of me. It’s been my first proper full season playing competitive mens football and I couldn’t be happier to finish it off as a league champion. I came here to win the title and develop as a player and thankfully, we got over the line. I feel I have progressed massively under the gaffer here, he has helped me a lot and so have the coaches, and I’ve also learnt a lot from the players here too. I definitely think I’m a better player now after this loan spell.
“At times I played as a wing-back, other times I played left or right wing. Growing up, I was a left back so it wasn’t alien to me to play wing-back and again he showed real trust in me to play me there. I was more than comfortable to do that and I’d say playing those different roles was another aspect which aided my development this season.”
The Hull City man looks back on a moment which helped kick-start his loan spell, back in November in a crucial match against then league leaders Cliftonville at Windsor Park, as he assisted Jordan Stewart for the only goal of the match which proved decisive.
“It’s a long season so every one of us needs to be chipping in and doing their part. The gaffer obviously felt I could do that and hopefully, I have repaid him. Looking back, I felt I had a good spell around Halloween time and it started with the gaffer playing me in a game against Cliftonville which, at the time – and even more so looking back now – was a huge game. He showed huge faith in me to play me that day and I got the assist as we won 1-0, and that gave me a real confidence boost after it took me a while to adapt to the league here initially. Every point this season was vital and big Ethan Devine particularly earned us a lot of points, but that’s what he came here to do, and that’s what I came here to do. As a Linfield player, that’s your job.”
Congratulations to Ahmed on the title success and best wishes to the young winger for whatever the future holds