I’ll admit it. I didn’t see this coming. At all. And even when it kept happening, game after game, it still seemed too good to be true.
I was adamant I would use my vote for the Footballer Writers’ Association Player of the Year on Kevin De Bruyne. I mean, it was all about KDB as he conducted the Manchester City juggernaut throughout their record-breaking season but as the months wore on in the Premier League season, Mohamed Salah kept scoring, and scoring, and scoring.
I had to vote for Salah, and I did, with the new chant (based on the hit “Sit Down” by James) reverberating in my head. He is truly adored by Liverpool’s fans.
“Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wing… Salah, lah, lah, lah, lah, the Egyptian King!”
In a Facebook Live chat from Wembley around the turn of the year, I even took on a friendly wager with Bruce Vail (I owe you that beer, Bruce) that Harry Kane would end the season with more goals than Salah. Kane had a career best 30 in the PL despite a few weeks out with injury, might I add… but Salah finished top with 32. Of course he did.
This has been the year of Salah for club and country and the funny thing is, nobody saw it coming. At all. Let’s not forget, Salah had one very good season at AS Roma in 2016/17 after first being loaned out by Chelsea to Fiorentina and Roma from 2015 as he was deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.
I wasn’t the only one who was blindsided and couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing week in, week out in the Premier League.
I vividly remember sitting in the freezing cold of the outdoor press box at Anfield in January as Salah lobbed Ederson from 40 yards out to put Liverpool 4-1 up against Man City, who had yet to be beaten in the PL that season. I smiled, everyone smiled, but then I looked around to my left and sat behind me was “King” Kenny Dalglish with the biggest smile of all as he punched the air with delight and celebrated alongside several Liverpool greats.
The Liverpool great has seen the likes of Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez rival his legendary status with the Kop and this man Salah has the potential to be a true God among Liverpool fans, if he isn’t already.
Salah’s sensational season took everyone by surprise as the Egyptian winger transformed his game under Jurgen Klopp and has become a global superstar over the last nine months at Liverpool. His clinical finishing, rapid counter attacks and incredible dribbling ability combining perfectly with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up top.
In his debut season at Anfield he has scored 44 goals in all competitions with one game to go (a bit of a humdinger, the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 26) and set a new Premier League record for the most goals (32) scored in a 38-game season. I also remember being sat at Man City’s Etihad Stadium early in the season and watching Salah squander several chances as he started the season in slightly wasteful fashion. About that…
The joint-record for the most goals in a PL season held by Alan Shearer, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo (31) tumbled under Salah’s brilliance and Shearer told PremierLeague.com that this wil be known as Salah’s season.
“When you’re looking to one of your players to do something different, do something special, more often than not it’s been Mo Salah,” Shearer said. “This season people will remember Salah and the impact that he had in his first season at Liverpool. No one has been able to stop him.”
Salah, still just 25 years old, has the perfect conditions around him to replicate this season too. Seriously.
Even though the hardest few months are probably coming up for him as he tries to reinvent his game slightly (after a World Cup with Egypt no less) and get used to two or three defenders marking him every time he has the ball next season, he’s playing for the perfect manager, with the perfect blend of players at the perfect club for how he wants to play.
Plus, aside from his playing ability, it’s the human factor of Salah which stands out and makes his story so lovable.
He’s the humble lad from the town of Nagrig in rural Egypt who plays with a smile on his face and a spring in his delicately permed hair.
Speaking about Salah in a speech written for the FWA awards evening last week, Klopp lauded his top goalscorer.
“The fact you have voted for him as your player of the season reflects that you have witnessed his incredible quality as a footballer. But it’s his qualities as a person that should not be overlooked,” Klopp said. “I read and hear about him being a wonderful role model for Egypt, North Africa, for the wider Arabic world and for Muslims. This, of course, is true, but he is a role model full stop.”
It’s not just on the club stage that Salah has burst onto the scene. It has been almost a perfect storm as the season of Salah reaches its climax.
With one more game of the season for Liverpool the biggest of them all, the UCL final against Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, Salah not only has the chance to etch his name into Liverpool folklore but hammer home his bid to win the Ballon d’Or in 2018 and wrestle it away from Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.
At the same time as Salah’s fame with Liverpool is skyrocketing, he’s also become a hero in his homeland of Egypt, scoring the goal which took the Pharaohs to their first World Cup finals since 1990.
Like Messi and Ronaldo, Salah has the hopes of a soccer-mad nation resting on his shoulders this summer in Russia. If Salah leads Egypt to the latter stages of the World Cup, he is ready to take over from Ronaldo and Messi. That’s how good he’s been this season.
The man who saw him first emerge as a teenage talent in Egypt was former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley, who coached the Egyptian national team from 2011-13 as they just missed out on making the 2014 World Cup amid huge unrest in the North African nation. The Port Said massacre saw the domestic league suspended in 2012 and Salah, along with plenty of his Egyptian teammates, ended up heading overseas as a pathway to FC Basel in Switzerland was created.
Bradley knew back then that Salah had it in him and said as much in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports.
“When the league stopped, we had to start to put together camps and friendly matches because Olympic qualifying was that June,” Bradley said.“Immediately when we brought him in, you could see how special he was: Incredible quickness, speed, power, explosiveness. He improved at every camp. He took ideas really well. You could tell he was determined to get better.”
And that’s now what Salah must do. Get better. If he can.
The Egyptian King may never replicate this historic season and if he doesn’t, that’s fine. Liverpool’s fans and neutrals across the globe will never forget the season of Salah. Only the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez and Neymar have been able to replicate other-worldly form on a yearly basis over the last decade.
But if Salah does manage to replicate this, then he will truly enter the highest soccer pantheon.
Whatever happens, Egypt and Liverpool has a new King.