On the June 23, 2017, Liverpool signed former Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah for what at the time seemed an extortionate transfer fee of £34million.
It wasn’t a fanfare-type signing as has been the case for the likes of Fernando Torres. The Egyptian had of course already sampled what the Premier League had to offer just three years previously, and didn’t make the best first impression on the English audience.
He was just 22 when he signed for Chelsea but only went on to play 19 times. He just didn’t seem to get the opportunities with the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and André Schürrle ahead of him in the pecking order.
Salah rightly left the club on loan to try and make a name for himself at Fiorentina before joining AS Roma permanently and staying in the Italian capital for two years before the move to Liverpool came about.
During the Egyptian’s first interview we saw that he believed he was coming back to the Premier League a better, more mature player. “Everything has improved,” he said, “even my personality was different, I was a kid. Now I’m older, everything is different. I have lots of experience.”
Salah was clearly confident enough when he stepped out onto the hallowed Anfield turf fresh from his Italian escapades to banish his Premier League demons — he had unfinished business in the league and he didn’t hang around to show his fantastic quality.
The forward bagged 32 Premier League goals in his first season, 22 in his second and now has 16 after 29 games played with another nine left to play — plenty of time to surpass the 20 mark for the third consecutive year — and it’s now crazy to think back that he was doubted because of a lack of playing time during his Stamford Bridge stay.
There are many people who recognise Salah’s talents and appreciate him accordingly, but I still don’t think his greatness is truly recognised by certain sections of the support.
Did he inadvertently create a rod for his own back in his first year back in the Premier League? Definitely — 32 Premier League goals and a staggering total of 44 for the whole season created a new record for the best total in a debut campaign and the second-most goals scored in a season, bettered only by Ian Rush’ total of 47 in 1983/84. He won PFA Player of the Year, Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Year along with his Premier League Golden Boot.
It was a freak season for Salah, one he deserved immensely for how well he played. He was on fire that year and criticising him for not managing to quite replicate those numbers is easy, but wholly unfair. More than that, to call him a one-season wonder is downright insane.
Roque Santa Cruz, Benni McCarthy, Michu and fellow Egyptian Amr Zaki are just a few of the names that spring to mind when you think of Premier League one-season wonders — Salah hasn’t bettered his first season either, but he still went on to score 22 goals in his second Premier League season — 27 in all competitions.
He shared the golden boot with teammate Sadio Mané and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, scored the opening goal from the penalty spot in the 2019 Champions League final and has now scored 70 goals in his first 100 Liverpool appearances in the Premier League — more than Fernando Torres, Robbie Fowler, Luis Suárez or Michael Owen achieved in their first century of league games.
If you take into account the whole league then only Alan Shearer has a better return in his first 100 league appearances with a staggering 79 goals for Blackburn Rovers. Salah has more in the same number of appearances than Ruud van Nistelrooy (68) and Sergio Agüero (64) managed, and these are legends of the game.
But it’s not just Salah’s supreme scoring ability that sets him apart either, it’s also his willingness to do the dirty work. Let’s be honest, our front three of Salah, Mané Roberto Firmino is the hardest working trio in world football.
Jürgen Klopp’s transfer policy is to hand-pick these type of players. He knows and has proven during his time at Liverpool that it’s not just down to ability to stay at the top, you also need to have the mental capacity to work for the team, and Salah doesn’t get the credit he deserves for that side of his game.
We’ve seen it when the Egyptian has been mentioned by fellow players in interviews about who is first and last in the gym and first to turn up at training and last to leave the training field — nine times out of 10 Salah’s name is the one on his teammates’ lips.
He works at his craft relentlessly like Cristiano Ronaldo has in a way, to make himself into an exceptional footballer and hone his skills and he deserves every success. The pressure on his shoulders coming back to the Premier League was huge and it was a risk he didn’t have to take — he could easily have stayed at Rome and enjoyed his football there. But he took a leap of faith and it has paid off no end.
Salah turns 28 this month, Mané turned 28 in April and Firmino will celebrate his 29th birthday in October. They are ageing, but we just need to be thankful that all three of them were brought together and spent their prime years at Liverpool Football Club.
Sadly for Salah, I don’t believe he will be truly appreciated until after he leaves the club, which really is a shame for someone who has hit some incredible heights during his time at Anfield to date.
The term legend is bandied around far too easily these days but, for his goal-scoring feats and contribution to Liverpool’s meteoric rise over the last three years, Salah will absolutely be remembered as one.
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