Mohamed Salah has placed his underwhelming previous spell at Chelsea firmly behind him, by becoming one of the most clinical attackers in the Premier League, following his transfer from AS Roma to Liverpool in the summer transfer window.
“Out with the old and in with the new.” Such a phrase is one Liverpool supporters of the new millennium can truly resonate with. From Owen to Torres to Suarez to Coutinho to Mohamed Salah (just to name a few), fans of the legendary club have grown accustomed to seeing their superstars leave Anfield for “greener pastures” of the cash-heavy super clubs of the world.
Despite losing such amazing players time and time again, Liverpool continue to find and nurture the next best thing soon after a star leaves. For example, just as Fernando Torres was out the door, Luis Suarez was coming in; just as Luis Suarez was headed out, Philippe Coutinho was rising. At the risk of becoming a selling club, it is a consistent pattern the Reds are growing familiar with; a pattern we are watching repeat itself right in front of our eyes. Upon the mega-million departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, we are witnessing the meteoric rise of Egyptian star Mohamed Salah.
Born in Basyoun in 1992, Salah found his feet at Egypt’s capital playing in the youth ranks of El Mokawloon SC. It was there where he would make his professional debut after impressing the Egyptian side at the early age of 17. Following his breakthrough season in Cairo, disaster struck as the infamous Port Said Stadium riot led to the temporary cancellation of the league. However, destiny works in strange ways as the league cancellation would lead to the start of Salah’s European journey.
During the league break, a friendly match was organized between the Egypt Under-23 side and Swiss giants FC Basel. A friendly match which would see the U23 side celebrate a 4-3 victory led by the standout performance of who else but a young Mohamed Salah, who netted a brace despite only appearing in the second half. It took just one week of training with the Swiss side until Salah was signed for them on a four-year deal.
Salah’s stint at St. Jakob-Park saw him grab the much deserved attention of some of Europe’s top sides. The exciting winger impressed in Switzerland, putting in some top-drawer performances in both the Europa League and Champions League against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. The latter especially found themselves on the receiving end of the Egyptian’s punishing offensive abilities as crucial goals against the Blues in both Champions League group stage ties gifted them their only two losses of the round. Such performances were so convincing the Londoners signed the dubbed “Egyptian Messi” that same season in January.
Unfortunately for Salah, he would suffer the same fate as many young attacking talents before him either at Chelsea, under Mourinho: poorly utilized, underplayed, and loaned out (most notably Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku). While not necessarily playing poorly, Salah was not given adequate time and coaching to develop during his time in London. The Egyptian was only able to rack up 2 goals in 19 appearances for the Blues before being loaned out to Fiorentina in the winter of 2015 — only a year after joining the club.
Although stalling at Chelsea, it was this experience that pushed him forward to become the player he is today as his spell in Italy set him off on a steep upward trajectory to stardom. Mohamed Salah took to life in Florence just as he left off before he moved to Chelsea… and then some. The Egyptian was beginning to consistently add goals to his game. He notched up a respectable 6 goals in 16 league appearances with the Viola, and he was playing with a special flair and confidence to his game.
During the 2013/2014 season with Chelsea, Salah averaged 2.1 shots per game, 0.9 key passes per game, and 1.6 dribbles per game. During his loan at Fiorentina, Salah averaged about 1.8 shots per game, 1.9 key passes per game, and 2.4 dribbles per game, via WhoScored. Not only was the Egyptian winger becoming more clinical, but he was beginning to add more elements to his game. Despite activating a clause in Chelsea’s loan deal to make his move to Florence permanent, Salah controversially refused the move and opted for a loan move to a more ambitious and competitive AS Roma. When asked on why he chose to join Roma he said:
“It’s very simple. I want to win with this team, with a club that is so popular in my home country and in this great city with which it’s impossible not to fall in love.”
It was there in the heart of Italy where Salah’s talent would explode into the deadly attacking talent that gives defenders whiplash trying to track the twinkle-toed forward down. The 23-year-old was hitting his stride for the Romans as his game began to develop at a breakneck pace, netting 14 goals and 6 assists in 34 appearances in his first season at the Olimpico.
In fact, he was even voted Roma’s Player of the Season. Unsurprisingly, Roma elected to make the loan move permanent with Salah happy to stay this time. The Egyptian was flourishing under Luciano Spalletti. Given the freedom to lead the attack from his favoured position as an inverted winger on the right while also being properly schooled and disciplined tactically, Salah was coming into his own as he finished the 2016/2017 season with a career high 15 league goals and 11 assists.
The rest of Europe, and particularly one Jurgen Klopp, took notice. The Liverpool boss spared no expense in his quest to bring the Egyptian back to England, breaking Liverpool’s transfer record at the time of £35m with an estimated £38m transfer fee – a deal that would surely go down as one of the bargains of the season. The German recalled back to his time at Dortmund hailing Salah saying:
“We played against him when he was at Basel and we didn’t know him… We played with Dortmund against him and it was ‘what the f***!’ It was unbelievable. The moment I said ‘let’s go for him’ he was already at Chelsea… He was quick, he played a lot of games, he created chances and scored goals by himself.”
There was much excitement around Mohamed Salah’s return to England, but no one would expect what would follow. Critics predicted he would fail as the rigors of the Premier League would overwhelm him just as they did in his time with Chelsea, or that his game was too one-dimensional, or that he could not finish. Fast forward about 6 months later, and those same critics are sat outside somewhere in a self-made hole and silenced with eggshells on their faces.
As of January 31, 2018, Mohamed Salah has the second most goals in the league (18), is tied for eight most assists in the league (6), and is tied for third most goals in the Champions League (5). If Salah’s spell in Roma was an explosion onto the scene, then his time in Liverpool thus far can be best described as an explosion of nuclear proportions that only The Manhattan Project can explain. The Egypt international has fit hand-in-glove to this Liverpool side and has been lighting up Anfield with his show-stopping performances.
Taking his rapid rate of development from Roma and increasing it ten-fold, Salah has shown he is more than just a quick one-trick pony. Cutting in from the right, he has showcased his ability to weave his way in and out of tight spaces and finishing from questionable angles all while holding off the defenders desperate to drag the elusive forward down.
He can mainly be found wreaking havoc on the shoulder of the last man with his devilish pace. Clearly learning from his failures at Chelsea, he has improved on so many aspects of his game that have been the keys to his success on his second time around in England. His strength, balance, and footballing IQ have all improved dramatically during his time in Italy and with a basic eye test it is easy to see how much the young man coming in from Basel has grown. However, perhaps the most important factor in Salah’s unbelievable development is his confidence. Now more than ever, it is clear that Salah is the main man at Liverpool and he knows it.
He is currently taking an average of 4 shots per game in the league which is dramatically more than his previously shots per game high of 2.6 in his final season at Roma, via WhoScored. Part of the problem at Chelsea was that Salah was only a bit-part player in a system that never really suited him. Since then, the CAF African Football of the Year has only played in teams giving him the freedom to attack with playing styles suitable to the pacey forward. With the free-scoring “heavy metal” football of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool combining with a confident and rapidly-developing player in Salah, the Anfield faithful have been gifted with the perfect storm.
Continuing to break records and collect personal accolades, the “Egyptian Messi” does not look to be slowing down anytime soon, which can only be good news for the Reds in their quest to secure a Champions League spot next season, and perhaps even win the competition this year and continue their historic love affair with the Europe’s elite competition. Although many Liverpool fans find themselves unhappy with the current state of the club following the sale of their former talisman Philippe Coutinho, the Reds should simply cherish the fact that the Merseyside already has a new hero in Mohamed Salah.