Mohamed Salah‘s lethal combination of talent and mindset make him a front-runner to take over from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s best player.
Liverpool started their 2020/21 Premier League campaign with a shaky performance against Leeds, eventually getting over the line in unconvincing fashion.
Picking a Man of the Match can often be tricky with the quality in Jurgen Klopp‘s team, but Salah’s display saw him stand head and shoulders above his peers, as the Egyptian King bagged a hat-trick and shone in his all-round game.
Salah came in for huge praise from Gary Neville on Monday evening, as he took up his usual punditry role alongside Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports.
?”I was watching Salah and thinking that is some player, when he got those 40 odd goals I though that’s a freak, then he does it for 2 or 3 years, he is an absolute killer on the pitch!” @GNev2 on Mo Salah for Liverpool pic.twitter.com/807qpIGxdX
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 14, 2020
While we are loath to be too kind to an ex-United man, Neville is absolutely correct – this is a special footballer we are witnessing.
When Salah arrived at Anfield in the summer of 2017, he came with a reputation as an erratic finisher, but someone who was a constant threat in the final third.
Nineteen goals in 41 appearances for Roma the previous season had outlined his predatory instincts, but in the three years since, he has become one of the most potent players of his generation, and a global icon.
From the moment Salah scored on his debut away to Watford he has never looked back, and his unforgettable 2017/18 campaign, which brought with it 44 goals and 15 assists, is up there with the greatest seasons by any Reds player.
Twenty-seven and 23 goals came his way in the next two terms, dispelling the myth that he was one-season wonder, while his hat-trick at the weekend bodes well this time around.
It takes his overall tally for Liverpool to 97 goals in 154 matches, despite not even playing as an out-and-out striker.
Premier League goals and assists since the start of the 2017/18 season:
What a footballer ??? pic.twitter.com/8AocmYHqTg
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) September 14, 2020
To further put his brilliance into context, Salah is way out in front of any other Premier League player in terms of combined goals and assists since the start of 2017/18.
His total of 104 is followed by Raheem Sterling (86), while Harry Kane (76) and Sergio Aguero (75) languish further behind.
The Egyptian superstar isn’t just narrowly in the lead: he is in a league of his own.
The Ronaldo comparison from Neville is perfect, such is Salah’s unstoppable desire to score goals, win awards and simply be the best.
He has scored 76 goals in 109 Premier League matches for Liverpool, whereas in Ronaldo’s final three seasons for United, when he was unstoppable, the Portuguese notched 66 in 101.
Salah’s mindset is elite and he will only be satisfied if he reaches the very top, which makes him a definite candidate to take over the No. 1 spot eventually.
Sadio Mane is certainly in the picture, but he isn’t the “killer” that Neville described Salah as.
He is unlikely to hit more than 40 goals in a season and his naturally more team-oriented style means he only has a certain, albeit still world-class, ceiling.
Kylian Mbappe has the world at his feet over in Paris and could take over the mantle, but he is still raw in comparison to Salah. The same applies to Borussia Dortmund pair Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland.
Kevin De Bruyne is another who stands a chance of becoming the cream of the crop, but he is an injury-prone figure who struggles to stay fit for an entire season.
Other former leading contenders such as Neymar and Eden Hazard are arguably not quite the players they were, while the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller are now the wrong side of 30.
Salah has returned like a player who truly means business, perhaps feeling irked by not winning the Golden Boot last year, or simply being well-rested and at the peak of his powers.
For all his genius, though, there is still a niggling feeling that Salah is neither loved nor rated highly enough, both within Liverpool and on the outside.
Those aforementioned numbers that Salah has churned out, not to mention being part of a trophy-winning side, means he should be lauded as the most dangerous player in the league, and among the top three or four attackers in the world.
Instead, there is always an underlying current of negativity surrounding him.
Rival fans will forever whinge at his tendency to go to ground ‘too easily’ or baulk at suggestions he is a world great, saying he isn’t close to ‘prime Eden Hazard’ or ‘prime Gareth Bale’, despite comfortably outperforming both with his end product.
Then there are Liverpool fans, many of whom undoubtedly worship him, but still not as universally as he merits.
Ask many Reds supporters who their favourite player is and Salah would receive far fewer votes than he warrants.
Mane and Roberto Firmino are possibly the more cherished of the front three, due to their selfless playing styles and happy-go-lucky personalities, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson‘s backstories make them instant favourites to many.
There are times when Salah can be too greedy or wasteful – his 76.5 percent pass completion rate was the second-lowest of an outfield player for Liverpool in the league in 2019/20 – but you only have to look at his end product to see that those flaws are ultimately irrelevant.
He is an unpredictable player who isn’t always easy on the eye, but his ability to deliver constant numbers is unparalleled in England and cannot be downplayed.
In many ways, Salah isn’t an archetypal Liverpool player, because he possesses an ego and his reputation exceeds the club, in many ways.
He is a godlike figure back in his homeland and once graced the cover of TIME in America, highlighting his level of worldwide fame.
Liverpool as a city is built around humility and underdog figures, meaning some supporters may naturally take more to a Henderson than a Salah.
It’s why Michael Owen was never revered like Robbie Fowler – Owen was a superstar for England and became known for more than his achievements for Liverpool, which for right or wrong didn’t always go down well on Merseyside.
Salah is an all-time Anfield great and should be treated like one, rather than finding himself unfairly criticised more than others.
Where does that take Salah?
What Salah has done for the Reds may only be fully appreciated when he finally leaves, whenever that may be.
It would be no great shock to see him move on at the end of this season, at which point he will be 29 and capable of one more huge transfer in his career.
Whereas someone like Mane could happily see out his career at Liverpool, Salah may picture himself in the colours of Barcelona or Real Madrid one day, despite the power firmly shifting to Anfield in recent years.
That shouldn’t be seen as a sign of disrespect to the Reds – it would likely go down like a lead balloon, as was the case with Owen – but like Ronaldo when he left United, it would all be part of the plan to be the world’s greatest, most-celebrated player.
Call it short-termism, but Salah’s performance against Leeds was one of his most exciting in a Liverpool shirt.
He looked so hungry and primed to tear the Premier League apart this season, spearheading his team’s title defence.
Salah hasn’t been the main man for the last couple of years – Van Dijk and Mane took on those roles, respectively – and deep down that will drive him on further.
He wants to be incomparable, he wants to smash every record into oblivion; but most importantly, he wants to do it all for the good of Liverpool.
Judging by his Leeds masterclass, nobody looks more ready to fill the upcoming Messi and Ronaldo-shaped void than Salah.