There is a question that persists around Mohamed Salah. A poser who, nearly five years into his Liverpool career, continues to linger.
And it’s not about whether or not he’ll accept a new contract, as intriguing as that may be.
Instead, the conundrum remains: is Salah really liked by those outside of Anfield?
There’s no doubt that Jurgen Klopp recognizes the value of the Egyptian. The same goes for the striker’s teammates, and no doubt Liverpool’s backing. So are the club, although they apparently aren’t quite on the same page as the player and his longer-term representatives yet.
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Still, there’s this odd feeling that the talent and high level of consistency Salah exhibits isn’t as recognized as those who regularly look up to him.
That was demonstrated again on Friday when it emerged the Liverpool man had been named Footballer of the Year for the second time, having first been recognized in 2018. He is one of only nine to have won the accolade multiple times, and only the third Reds player after Kenny Dalglish and John Barnes to win it twice.
And it wasn’t even close, with Salah receiving 48% of the vote to finish ahead of Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice. A total of nine Liverpool players have been nominated.
At first glance, it was hardly a controversial decision. In the Premier League alone, Salah has scored the most goals – 22 – and provided the most assists – 13 – in 31 games so far. In terms of goal involvements, his tally of 35 is 12 more than his closest rival, Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-Min.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, however, gave the impression he was not so convinced when asked about the price later today.
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“Congratulations to Salah,” he said. “Jurgen said, they have the best goalkeeper, the second best second goalkeeper in the world, the best central defender, the best midfielder, the best striker, so it’s normal that they win all the awards.”
Pep owes Pep, and his salty take was entirely in line with a manager who is not only protective of his players but who perceives, much like this column’s argument about Salah, that they are not getting enough recognition. No problem with that.
But Guardiola wasn’t the only one to appear to question the Egyptian’s selection – even though in 2018 he made clear his fear of what Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino might do alongside him – with discussions that raged on social media all afternoon. Now, no one is saying that football journalists are unsurpassed experts in judging players. Spoiler alert: they really, really aren’t. But we hacks watch a lot of matches closely, and the fact that nearly half of those polled selected the same player underscores just how impressed Salah has been on this term.
And Salah’s continued success is all the more remarkable given the lack of protection suggested by the statistics.
As one of the highest-scored players in the Premier League, it stands to reason that the Egyptian is targeted by opposing players with an attention that, on occasion, exceeds the mark of fairness.
Yet the reality is astonishing. Since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations in February, Salah has played in 11 Premier League games. In that span, he’s received just four free-kicks – the same number Everton youngster Anthony Gordon racked up in the recent Anfield derby. For more context, Salah has received more fouls in all five Champions League knockout games in the same period. Do whatever you want with it.
For his part, Salah will simply crack. Individual honors are nice, but the striker has long declared his preference for team silverware. One down, three to go in this regard this campaign.
So, is he really popular outside of Anfield? The Footballer of the Year award suggests he is to some extent, although he will forever be taken for granted by some. Now, on this other question, Mo…