Mohamed Salah is often called the best football player in the world, at least these days, but the Egyptian is having a hard time persuading his Liverpool club that the accolade merits a significant increase in salary.
It has been reported that talks between player and club over a new contract have broken down. The failure in the negotiations might not seem critical given that Salah’s current deal remains far off, running until the end of next season, expiring on 30 June 2023.
But a new deal will only be possible if Liverpool offer better terms. That does not appear likely, not after Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said last week that the club had done “all it could” to persuade Salah to stay.
Klopp said it was up to Salah to decide whether he signs a new contract while Salah has previously said he wants to stay but that his future is in Liverpool’s hands.
So who will prevail?
It does not look like Liverpool will bend; Klopp pretty much suggested the club has made an offer and will not add a single penny more.
It is not officially known what Salah’s new contract looks like, but we have an idea about the current deal. While the salaries of athletes are often in dispute and figures from websites and social media should be taken with a grain of salt, Salah reportedly commands $261,000 a week. It is reported he is asking for close to $392,000 a week.
Salah has said he is not asking for “crazy stuff”. That might be because there are crazier amounts out there. Again, give or take a few million, Cristiano Ronaldo supposedly makes nearly $503,000 a week. Lionel Messi, another astronomical example, rakes in purportedly over $528,000 a week.
Such out-of-this stratosphere figures are apparently the going rate for legends. Ronaldo and Messi, with their otherworldly achievements, are the two best players of their generation and in the game’s history and so have checked all the boxes necessary to be classified as bonafide legends.
Salah is a very, very good player. At the time of writing, Salah was leading the Premier League in goals with 20. Since joining in 2017, he has helped the Reds win the Premier League, Champions League, League Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup. And he is a two-time Premier League Golden Boot winner and heading for a third.
But Salah cannot be considered a legend. He cannot be grouped with Ronaldo and Messi, nor receive the same kind of money, at least not yet, for he hasn’t been around long enough. Longevity - sustained excellence over many years - is what separates average athletic folks from folklore.
Still, there is no denying that Salah’s departure from Anfield would be a huge blow for the club.
Having stated earlier everything Salah has done for Liverpool, what else can he do to get into their good graces? Nothing is left except to win the Ballon d’Or, the award given to the world’s best footballer.
Salah might just do that after France Football magazine, organisers of the prestigious award, announced major changes to the rules for selections. Players will now be judged on performances over a season and not a calendar year. Up to the 2021 edition, the Ballon d’Or was awarded to the best football player of the year, from January to December. This implied an assessment covering two half-seasons (from January to June and from August to November) rather than a full season. Now players will be assessed during classical football seasons, from August to July. The next edition will therefore take into account the entirety of the 2021-22 football season. The World Cup, which takes place in November and December, will not be considered by judges until the 2023 awards.
Seeing that Salah has now scored 28 times in 35 games across all competitions in 2021-22, the new Ballon rules puts him within striking distance of the award, in a much better position than when he finished in a shockingly low seventh place when the prize was announced in November last year.
The changes followed criticism for the choice of Paris St-Germain striker Messi as Ballon d’Or winner in 2021, when many in world football felt Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski deserved the honour.
France Football also decided to reduce the number of judges, from a panel of 170 journalists to 100. The magazine’s argument was that “gigantism could imply a potential fragility”. In that sense, it decided to strengthen the legitimacy of its jury by reducing the voting members to a more compact expert panel.
Since the rules and voting criteria have not evolved since the creation of the Ballon d’Or in 1956, it was also deemed necessary to assert that the Ballon d’Or is first and foremost an individual trophy. Consequently, criteria No 1 will be focused on the individual achievements of the contenders while criteria No 2, because football is a team sport, shall focus on the results, achievements and trophies won in the season by the teams of the nominees.
Which means that neither Salah nor any other player will need to depend on what his club or country do as much as what the player does. More emphasis placed on the performances of individual players rather than on trophies won by a player’s team will probably suit Salah just fine. Liverpool need not win everything under the sun this season as it goes for a historic quadruple. The same holds true for Egypt in which Salah usually underachieves anyway.
Basically, Salah has three options before him: Either go where the money trail leads but where major championships have been hard to come by recently; PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid come to mind. Or stay in England and play for either Manchester City or Manchester United which would damage his standing among Liverpool supporters regardless of his achievements at Anfield. Or remain where he is flourishing - in Liverpool - under a contract he might not be satisfied with but on a team that is a proven winner.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.