NOT long ago, one could argue that £30m was too much for one player. Times have changed drastically and the previously mentioned price is arguably considered ‘good business’ in a world where Brazilian superstars are worth more than six times that figure. From Jorge Mendes’ multi-million pound agent fees to the Qatari government shelling out tens of millions personally to Neymar, football transfers have changed. Many at the start of the season scoffed at Liverpool’s purchase of Mohamed Salah, for a reported fee of around £35m. The player, who scored 34 goals and amassed 24 assists for AS Roma in only 83 appearances, was considered not good enough for the Premier League.
Despite tearing apart Serie A, leading his Roma side to a second place finish, he was deemed not good enough. Even though he led his national team at AFCON 2017 to greater heights than Premier League stars such as Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, and Eric Bailly, he was still considered not good enough.
The British media’s general disapproval of the Egyptian at the time of his move to Liverpool was largely influenced by his time with Premier League rivals Chelsea.
Born in Basyoun, a tiny rural city in Gharbeya, Egypt, Salah never had the opportunity to prove himself on Egypt’s greatest footballing stage. It was not until he signed for FC Basel, in the Swiss Super League, that he burst onto the scene. Unlike many of Egypt’s greatest stars, Salah opted not to take the traditional route of playing for Egypt’s powerhouse clubs such as Al-Ahly and Zamalek. Instead, he decided to forge his own route to glory. This is one of the qualities that has led to Salah’s emergence as one of the top players in Europe.
Instead of joining a major Egyptian club, where his chance to play in Europe would have ended, Salah opted to try something new. Salah’s time at Basel was so successful that he created a route for Egyptian players into Europe, with Mohamed Elneny and Omar Gaber following his path to Basel.
Although it was successful, Salah took the less popular route, flying under the radar for years. Salah would rarely get media attention with the only real coverage at Basel coming during opportunities to play in European competition.
Before Salah burst onto the scene, scoring twice against Chelsea, Basel had to qualify through the play-off round and this came with controversy. Basel were drawn against Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv and although the Swiss side advanced, the result got more attention than it should have. Going into the match, Salah was obviously under pressure, given the troubling relationship between Israel and Middle Eastern countries. In the first leg Mohamed Salah did not shake the hands of his opponents, opting to tie his boots on the sideline during the proceedings. Pressure on Salah increased after the match with many wondering what the winger would do in the second leg, which was to be hosted in Israel. Salah opted to participate in the handshake in the second leg but elected for a ‘fist bump’ instead of the traditional greeting. The Swiss outfit convincingly beat Tel-Aviv and would eventually be drawn in the same group as Chelsea in the Champions League proper.
Despite Basel finishing third, both of their wins were against the London club. In the first match at Stamford Bridge Chelsea fans watched the Blues lose 2-1 to the Swiss underdogs with the help of a goal from a relatively unknown Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian winger would gain even more popularity and attention when the two teams met again in Switzerland. A Salah goal proved to be the winner against the English giants and gave Salah and co a 1-0 win. Although Basel ended up finishing third, the Egyptian’s stock had risen and his name was now heavily linked to the continent’s elite clubs.
Just two months later and the courting period was over. Chelsea signed Salah in the January transfer window of 2014 for around £11m. While Chelsea is obviously a step up from Basel, his failed stint at the club led to the media having the perception that Salah wasn’t good enough for the Premier League.
Some might remember his contributions in Chelsea’s 6-0 demolition of Arsenal, but many will remember his shot against Shrewsbury that went out for a throw-in or getting dispossessed time and time again. These small mistakes obviously won’t matter in the long run but when Liverpool purchased Salah for around £35m people looked back to this.
The English media’s superiority complex of their own league has them thinking that the Premier League is the best league in the world and if a player won’t succeed at this level then they are not good enough. The media overlooked Salah’s success at Fiorentina and Roma, where he scored a combined 45 goals and recorded 28 assists. But, to be fair, even those who followed Salah at Roma could not have expected what Salah is doing currently with Liverpool.
You would have been called delusional if you expected Salah to score 44 goals and lead Liverpool to the Champions League Final. Personal attributes including PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the prestigious Golden Boot were unimaginable in pre-season, so how has “The Egyptian Messi” set the Premier League alight?
Mohamed Salah’s success in the Premier League so far can be attributed to his skillset. A combination of skill, motivation and tactics have allowed Salah to thrive in the Premier League. The competition has seen similar players excel in the past and a pacey, diminutive, one-footed winger with inconsistent finishing is not a new phenomenon. Before the season began he was comparable to the likes of Juan Cuadrado, a skilled player with little end product. But Salah is more than a quick winger. Many of Salah’s dribbles are meaningful and instead of bursting down the wing before playing a poor cross he composes himself, slows down, finds a pass or goes for a shot. His vision is superb and, while he’s definitely no Andres Iniesta, Kevin De Bruyne, or Lionel Messi, when it comes to passing, it seems sufficient for the Premier League. At times he’ll play the wrong pass, drilling it into a crowded box as opposed to finding the overlapping Trent Alexander-Arnold, but with nine Premier League assists, he is without doubt one of the most creative players in the league.
Salah’s finishing in front of goal is something I have never seen before. At times he will score with four defenders around him, somehow finding a way to beat the goalkeeper by placing the ball through the legs of an opponent. At other times, more often in the beginning of the season, he will miss an absurdly easy chance. Despite Salah’s unbelievable goals return in his debut season, he has missed a vast number of chances, yet this doesn’t seem to affect him. His finishing though has improved. An increase in confidence has seen a marked improvement in his composure. The missed chances from the start of the season haven’t been completely irradiated, but many have been replaced by clever finishing, such as his clever dink over Alisson Becker at Anfield. This goal came on a monumental night for the Egyptian as his former club arrived for a Champions League semi-final first leg, a night that would turn out to be another magical night under the lights on Merseyside.
At times Salah shares a glaring similarity to Arjen Robben, as he often replicates the Dutch winger’s signature move. His first on that famous night at Anfield saw the Egyptian winger cut in from the right and bend the ball into the opposite top corner, kissing post and bar on its way past the Brazilian stopper, also linked to Liverpool. Similar goals against Southampton, Everton and Bournemouth highlight his ability from that side, as defenders struggle to force him wide onto his weaker right foot.
At just 175 cm, Salah is excellent in the air, notching onto balls at near impossible angles and directing them into the back of the net. We’ve seen examples of this with his goals against Watford and Leicester, where he is able to score with his head from a ball that not many would expect him to be able to reach, let alone direct.
His pace is exceptional, highlighted perfectly against Tottenham where he burst past Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen before slipping the ball past Hugo Lloris. Movement and instinct have led to numerous tap-ins throughout the season as the Premier League debutant strived towards The Golden Boot award.
The opening goal in Liverpool’s final game of the season led Jurgen Klopp’s side to Champions League qualification and Mo Salah to the prestigious award for the top goal-scorer in the division, pipping Harry Kane to the honour and reaching a record breaking 32 league goals. Nobody has ever reached that tally in the 38 game format and considering that this is his first season at Liverpool and that he plays as a winger, that is a phenomenal achievement.
Salah has fit perfectly into the Liverpool system. While the high press system hasn’t worked so well defensively, when Liverpool win the ball it sends the lethal front three forward on a counter-attack. Time and time again, Salah is found at the end of these moves, where he is able to apply the finishing touch. With an attack based around the Egyptian, he is found many times, and even if he doesn’t score, he creates or is on the end of many chances.
As the World Cup looms large, more eyes will be on Mohamed Salah than ever before. Critics and supporters alike will wonder if Salah can carry Egypt to World Cup glory. He is already a national hero, but if Mohamed Salah can take the Pharaohs and Liverpool to unprecedented success in one season, all football fans should revere him.
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