The season of Salah: Liverpool’s Egyptian King

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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.

Chelsea’s Willian eager to stay in Premier League

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Chelsea and Brazil star Willian has revealed he is eager to stay in the Premier League, even if that’s not with Chelsea.

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Willian, 31, has revealed that contract talks have stopped for now during the suspension for the coronavirus pandemic, and his future is uncertain as his current deal at Chelsea expires this summer.

The likes of Tottenham and Arsenal have been linked with a move for Willian, who almost joined Spurs in 2013 but instead joined Chelsea in a last-second change of heart.

Willian told ESPN Brazil  that he wants to stay in the Premier League and he feels he is now at his peak.

“My wish is to stay in the Premier League, but I’m not ruling out playing in other leagues,” Willian said. “I’m going to play until the end of the season and then see what happens. I’m very used to life in England. I’m not thinking about going back to Corinthians at the moment. My aim is to stay in Europe. I feel that I’m at my peak at the moment. Players improve throughout their careers and I think I’m currently at my peak.”

It is not secret that Mourinho and Willian get on very well, which will intrigue Tottenham’s fans…

“I got on very well with Mourinho, learnt a lot under him and we’ve remained friends,” Willian said. “We still message each other a lot, but I don’t see him often. I haven’t managed to meet up with him since he came back to London.”

His form for Chelsea has been a little erratic this season but Frank Lampard has spoken fondly about Willian time and time again and it is quite clear Chelsea would like to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge for at least another season.

With so many young wingers around (Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount to name a few), Willian can help ease them into the first team but there’s no doubting plenty of Premier League clubs will be eager to snap him up on a free transfer this summer, or whenever the transfer window reopens.

Tottenham would seem like a particularly good fit for Willian. He would link up with Jose Mourinho, the manage who bought him to Chelsea, and his experience would be vital at Spurs as they aim to finally secure some silverware. Tottenham need to prioritize buying new defenders but if Willian is available for free, you can’t turn that deal down, even if he turned Spurs and Daniel Levy down in 2013…

Arsenal would make sense too but you’d have to say Tottenham are the frontrunners given the connection between Willian and Mourinho. Of course, he could stay at Chelsea, but with Pedro also out of contract it does feel like a changing of the guard as Lampard will put his faith totally in new signing Hakim Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi next season.

With $2.7 billion reserves, FIFA has ‘duty’ to aid virus-hit soccer

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FIFA says it has a “duty” to use its vast financial reserves to assist a football industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic wiping out games and creating unexpected economic hardship in the world’s biggest sport.

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The spread of COVID-19 has impacted the wealthiest clubs, with Barcelona and Juventus players taking wage cuts; those in smaller countries, with Slovakian champion Zilina entering bankruptcy; and national football federations, with Uruguay furloughing hundreds of staff.

Having amassed reserves it last reported at $2.745 billion, FIFA has the resources to give much-needed financial help to the game at many levels. Now the organization has provided more details around the need agreed two weeks ago by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his vice presidents to explore a “support fund” for the sport.

“FIFA is in a strong financial situation and it’s our duty to do the utmost to help them in their hour of need,” world football’s governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“FIFA is working on possibilities to provide assistance to the football community around the world after making a comprehensive assessment of the financial impact this pandemic will have on football.”

FIFA is exploring the mechanism to provide the financial lifeline to the football industry with the six regional confederations and member associations to ensure there is an announcement “in the near future.”

“The football community around the world is experiencing, to a greater or lesser extent, serious financial problems on account of the coronavirus outbreak,” FIFA said. “This threatens to disrupt and impair the ability of FIFA’s member associations and other football organizations such as leagues and clubs to develop, finance and run football activities at all levels of the game, including professional, non-professional, youth and grassroots.

“It is foreseen that in many parts of the world a considerable number of persons involved in football including both men and women players will be left in extremely difficult economic conditions.”

FIFA already operates a “Forward” development program to redistribute its wealth to member associations. In the 2015-18 cycle, investment dedicated to the scheme was $1.079 billion, of which $832 million had been approved and committed to member associations, confederations or regions, according to the last published financial results.

Premier League TV schedule: April 4-5

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We have 16 hours of Premier League programming coming your way this weekend and here is your TV schedule for April 4-5

This Saturday and Sunday we will have eight hours of programming coming your way each morning from 6 a.m. ET to 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN on your TV.

With the current 2019-20 Premier League season suspended until April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have a lot of programming treats planned for you in the coming weeks and will keep up fully updated with a TV schedule posted every single week.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

Remember, during the season you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Below is your full Premier League TV schedule and stream links for Saturday and Sunday as we have classic matches, Goal of the Season, Behind the Badge, a focus on Liverpool v. Man City and much more coming up.


FULL TV SCHEDULE FOR NBCSN

Saturday, April 4
6-6:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Matt Le Tissier [STREAM]
6:30-7 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – John Barnes [STREAM]
7-7:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Sol Campbell [STREAM]
7:30-8 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Ryan Giggs [STREAM]
8-9 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2001-02 [STREAM]
9-10 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2002-03 [STREAM]
10-10:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Liverpool v. Tottenham, Feb. 2015 [STREAM]
10:30-11 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Chelsea v. Man United, Feb. 2012 [STREAM]
11-11:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Jan.  2015 [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Classic Match: Man United v. Arsenal, Aug., 2011 [STREAM]
12-12:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 1 [STREAM]
12:30-  p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 2 [STREAM]
1-1:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 3 [STREAM]
1:30-2 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 4 [STREAM]

Sunday, April 5
6-7 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1998-99 [STREAM]
7-8 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1999-00 [STREAM]
8-10 a.m. ET: Match of the Week, Man City v. QPR, May 2012 [STREAM]
10 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Everton v. Liverpool, Nov. 2013 [STREAM]
12 p.m. – 2 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Chelsea v. Arsenal, Oct. 2014 [STREAM]

VIDEO: Top 25 moments in Premier League history

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It’s time to take a trip down memory lane and countdown the top 25 moments in Premier League history.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

There have been so many memorable goals, incidents, performances and players throughout the league’s history and back in 2017 we celebrated its 25th anniversary by counting down our top 25 moments.

From Wayne Rooney’s bicycle kick, the arrival of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, Leicester’s title win and Man City’s dramatic last-gasp success, there are so many wild moments packed into this video.

In truth, it was so tough to narrow down the best moments in PL history to just 25 moments.

Click play on the video above to replay some of the greatest moments in history.