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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Salah goes on and on

 Marawan Zayed follows Mohamed Salah’s impressive football journey from his hometown Nagrig in Egypt to a world, European and now English champion

Marawan Zayed, Tuesday 30 Jun 2020
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On 25 June, when Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-1, Liverpool was officially declared winner of the English Premier League after 30 years, mathematically ending City’s near dead hopes of catching the Reds.

Mohamed Salah’s 17 league goals have so far helped the Reds seal the title with seven games remaining to break the previous record of City sealing it with five games left.

Salah could also help Liverpool break the record for most points in a season, set last year by Manchester City, at 100. Liverpool currently have 86 points.

Salah is also seeking a third straight scoring title, being just two goals behind Jamie Vardy of Leicester who has 19 goals. A third golden boot running has not been achieved in the Premier League since Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer.

Accordingly, Salah became the first Egyptian player ever to win the English Premier League title.

Salah also became the second Arab player to win the English title after Algeria’s Riyad Mehrez who claimed the title twice with two different teams: Leister and Manchester City.

Salah had also won a European league championship, the 2012-2013 Swiss league with his former club Basel.

With Liverpool out of the Champions League and FA Cup, and with the league title buried and sealed, Salah can focus solely on scoring goals without any kind of pressure to add yet another record to his already countless records since joining Liverpool.

Since joining the Reds, Salah made clear time and again that his biggest dream was to win the league title for the fans who have been waiting since 1990. And before winning the Champions League, when Salah was asked whether he wants to win the league title or the Champions League, he always said that on a personal level the Champions League would mean the world, but he knew that the league title would mean even more to the Reds fans around the globe.

So, fresh from winning the Champions League last season, Salah and Liverpool’s intentions this year were clear from the very first league game of the season. And here we are in June talking about the first ever Egyptian to win the Premier league title in unprecedented fashion.

On 22 June 2017, it was announced that Mo Salah as they call him everywhere around the world has agreed to leave Roma for a return to England to join English giants Liverpool. That was the day Salah’s life changed 180 degrees. Although he was an excellent player at Roma who was scoring and supplying goals consistently he wasn’t really considered one of the best in the world.

The move to Liverpool saw Salah leave the bracket of “excellent players” to join the bracket of “elite players” thanks to his unprecedented achievements during the past three years. Salah’s first season with Liverpool was simply unbelievable. He broke records for fun to make the people at Chelsea, after his ill-fated spell there, regret not keeping him.

After scoring 29 league goals in 65 appearances with Roma, Salah finished his first season with the Reds as the top scorer of the league with 32 goals to become the first player ever to score that many goals in a 38-game season, beating the previous record of Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo when both scored 31 goals each.

In addition to his 32 league goals, Mo scored another 12 to finish a sensational season with 44 goals, the second-highest total of any player in the club’s history. Despite Liverpool finishing fourth in the league, Salah was voted the PFA Player of the Year, Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year and Premier League Player of the Year in addition to the top scorer to make it a truly unforgettable debut season with Liverpool.

The season could have been even better, however a heartbreak was awaiting Salah in the Champions League final when he was forced off the pitch early in the game due to a shoulder injury after a challenge by Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid. The game ended in a 3-1 defeat for the Reds to put a sour end to Salah’s unbelievable season knowing that a Champions League medal could have easily won Salah the best player in the world that year.

The injury meant Salah wasn’t ready for the World Cup, missing the first game against Uruguay and playing the other two games against Russia and Saudi Arabia, scoring in both defeats.

Still, Salah was chosen the BBC African player of the year as well the CAF African player of the year. However, the icing on the cake for Salah was being chosen as the third best player in the world by the UEFA and FIFA coming after Luka Modric and Ronaldo. To even see an Egyptian player compared to Lionel Messi and Ronaldo and going head to head against them is simply beyond imagination and an unbelievable achievement for the kid born in 1992 in Nagrig, a village in the Gharbiya governorate, north of the country.

It would have been foolish to expect Salah to hit the same heights as he did in his debut season. However, his tally of 22 Premier League goals was enough to earn him a share of the Golden Boot alongside teammate Sadio Mané and Arsenal’s Pierre Aubameyang. A six-game run in spring without a goal was seen as a severe drought, but he ended it in style by taking the ball out of his own half to score a fine solo goal at Southampton to announce that the king was back.

In the Champions League, Salah missed the second leg of the semi-final against Barcelona, due to a concussion sustained in the previous game at Newcastle. Attending the game from the stands, Salah wore a black T-shirt with the slogan “Never Give Up”, something which became an iconic phrase given that the Reds did the impossible and overcame the 3-0 defeat of the first leg and won 4-0 at Anfield to reach the final of the Champions League to give Salah the chance to be the first ever Egyptian to win a competition widely considered the most prestigious competition in the world.

On 1 June 2019 at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium Salah buried the ghosts of the year before at Kiev when he smashed home a second-minute penalty to send Liverpool on their way to a sixth triumph in Europe’s premier club competition as they defeated Tottenham 2-0.

A tally of 27 goals in 52 games compared to the first season’s tally of 44 goals in the same number of games can be seen as a step back for Salah by some people but winning the Champions League as well as the Premier League Golden Boot once again and missing out on the league title by just one point to Man City showed that Salah was already creating miracles and on track to be one of the best players in the history of Liverpool as well cementing his place as one of the best players in the world.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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