Those who last remembered Mohamed Salah as a fast and direct winger with wasteful tendencies, who predominantly turned out for Chelsea in games that didn’t really matter during his time at Stamford Bridge, will have raised an eyebrow when Liverpool forked out £37million to sign the Egyptian last summer.
Others, familiar with his fine work in Italy through stints with Fiorentina and Roma, will have recognised sound reasoning in Liverpool’s recruitment of the attacker, anticipating the pace and skill he might offer at Anfield.
No one, however, predicted the scale of what was to come. At the end of his first season with Liverpool, Salah has smashed through the 40-goal barrier in all competitions and broken the record return for a 38-game Premier League campaign with 32 strikes, claimed both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards and fired the Reds to an unthinkable Champions League final.
Liverpool haven’t been perfect this season, and there is clearly work left for Jürgen Klopp to do if he is to construct a title challenge, but they have been the most thrillingly dynamic side in Europe this term. Salah, with his searing speed and relentless, insatiable appetite for goals, has been a major part – the major part – of that.
When he arrived, he brought with him a reputation as an unreliable finisher, despite goals returns of 15 and 19 in back-to-back seasons with Roma – not bad from the wing. But the 25-year-old quickly showed himself capable of scoring in bulk, from any angle, any distance, under pressure or with dangerous time to think and overthink.
Quickly recognising a phenomenon developing before him, Klopp appeared to tweak Salah’s role within the team, becoming less and less a conventional winger, and more regularly seen operating in central areas, in more advanced zones than Roberto Firmino, Liverpool’s excellent facilitator of a striker.
This stylistic shift can be seen clearly using Football Whispers‘ Player Persona model (above). Isolating the first three months of his Liverpool career, we see Salah’s game was about creating chances for others and carefully selecting his shots.
Thereafter, however, he came to focus more of scoring himself, taking a volume approach to shooting, with the chance-creation side of his game much less prominent.
Now the focal point of the most devastating frontline in European football, and having ended Harry Kane‘s two-year dominion over the Premier League’s Golden Boot, Salah has made good on Liverpool’s investment in him tenfold.
After what has been one of the finest individual campaigns of the Premier League era, Klopp penned a letter of tribute to the Egyptian attacker, as he was named Liverpool’s Player of the Year at the club’s end-of-season awards ceremony:
“Mo, we are very proud of you and thankful for what you have done for this team and club – and of course we look forward to sharing many more seasons with you at Liverpool. In a season when Manchester City have been outstandingly good – and played outstandingly well – football from another planet – you have won the two major awards. The one voted for by your fellow professionals and now the one voted for by the football writers.
“You are world class Mo – truly world class. And what’s even more exciting, for you, for Liverpool, and for the public who get to watch you play: you can and will get even better.”
The vote for the Football Whispers Forward of the Year was a no contest, with strike partner Firmino the only man able to take a single vote from Salah. The Brazilian is worthy of mention here for the season he’s had, with 27 goals and 17 assists in all competitions, and the role he has played in aiding his Egyptian cohort.
With a Champions League final to come – against Real Madrid, who have reportedly developed a £200million interest in the Reds star – Salah could yet take his remarkable season to new heights.
But as Liverpool gear up for the chance to claim a sixth European Cup, there is a distinct feeling that, as well as being the conclusion of thrilling season, this is just the beginning of something special at Anfield, with Salah front and centre.