In roughly the amount of time it takes the citizens of the Kop to conjure another enduring musical opus about one of their heroes — which is to say, hardly any time at all — Mohamed Salah Ghaly became MO SALAH! THE EGYPTIAN KING! It has been a transformation unlike any we’ve seen recently in world soccer, perhaps unlike any we’ve seen in world sport.
He arrived at Liverpool FC last summer expected to do great things in Jurgen Klopp’s attack after scoring a combined 29 league goals in two full seasons at Roma in Italy’s Serie A. Liverpool FC spent nearly $50 million to secure his transfer, the most it had paid for a player to that point.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2018 FINAL: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid TV channel & live streams, teams & match preview
He arrived on the pitch at Anfield last August as something else altogether. It was as if he’d slipped through a phone booth along the way. By his own established standard, he had scored a season’s worth of goals before New Year’s Day. He struck the last-second penalty kick that assured Egypt would reach the 2018 World Cup. He scored 11 goals in leading Liverpool to a record total of 46 in UEFA Champions League competition and to a May 26 meeting with Real Madrid in the Reds’ first final since 2007.
Salah became a genuine contender for the Ballon d’Or.
“If he were to have a successful World Cup, I think that would translate a lot. That will mean a lot,” analyst Alexi Lalas, who will be part of the Fox Sports studio team for the Champions League final, told Sporting News. “If he has success with Egypt, to me that is more valuable and is higher praise than if Messi has success with Argentina or Cristiano has success with Portugal. Because he’s playing with an inferior team to the other two. I think the World Cup is going to play into this whole narrative a lot.”
That’s the crazy thing, though: There is a narrative. There is a scenario in which a player who 12 months ago was considered to be worth less than 20 percent of what Paris Saint-Germain paid for Neymar is presented with the trophy for world player of the year — an award no one other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi has won since 2007, that only once in that period had anyone other than those two finish as runner-up.
Ronaldo and Messi have rampaged through the game for more than a decade, taking turns at the very top, and suddenly there is this humble, smiling, 25-year-old who might go from promising transfer to EGYPTIAN KING! to king of the soccer world in about 10 months.
“This is maybe a weird analogy, but I was reading an article that Meghan Markle makes people believe again that it’s possible for anyone to become a princess. Oh, that’s Mo Salah! Meaning it’s possible for anybody to become a king,” veteran soccer journalist Andrea Canales told SN. “The sport of soccer, usually the top players are crowned at a certain age. They’re sort of primed for a long time. And a lot of them go bust because of the weight of expectations.
“It’s quite unusual to have it go the other way around. No one expected a world-class player to come out of Egypt. Mo is just kind of this great reminder that while everyone is looking the other way, a hard-working player can elevate his game to the next level.”
On the day Liverpool played its final game of the Premier League season, a 4-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion that assured the Reds would play next season in the Champions League, the coach who brought Salah to the club marveled at how he handled the challenge of being celebrated.
“Imagine how it would be if everyone tells you every day how brilliant you are,” Klopp said. “And they don’t only say, ‘You are brilliant.’ No, they give you an Oscar: an award for this, an award for that. I thought he got an award for getting out of the car without struggling. It’s really difficult to stay focused.”
A partial accounting of Salah’s trophy haul (to date): the Golden Boot for leading the Premier League in scoring with a record tally of 32 goals in a 38-game season, Premier League player of the year, Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year, African Footballer of the Year, Liverpool Player of the Year, seven player of the month awards for LFC, four PFA player of the month awards, three Premier League player of the month honors, three selections in the Champions League team of the week … there’s more, but it’s getting exhausting.
This is what happens when you score 44 goals in 51 appearances across all competitions.
But how does one score 44 goals in 51 appearances?
“He’s got an appetite for the game. He loves being around it. He wants to learn,” analyst Stuart Holden, who will call the Liverpool-Real Madrid game for Fox, told SN. “He’s got speed. He’s got good feet. I think where he has thrived this season is he looks to have a calmness and composure in front of goal. When those chances are falling to him, he has a way of executing flawlessly this season.”
This has been an essential part of Salah’s rise: He does not squander chances. When an opportunity develops for him, either because of his own ingenuity or the work of a teammate or two, he almost invariably puts the ball in the back of the goal. When he got behind the defense 5 minutes in and accepted a beautiful pass from midfielder Jordan Henderson in a late-April visit to Stoke, Salah’s chip over goalkeeper Jack Butland seemed so certain to connect the production team for NBC Sports Network rang up a goal on the scoreline — even though Salah missed.
“Being a left-footed player, being diminutive in terms of stature, the inevitable comparison with Messi is going to happen,” Lalas said. “I think there are a lot of similarities in the way they play. What’s impressed me the most is the way both of them ride off tackles, and not only do they ride off of them, they almost use tackles from defenders as an added power source to catapult them forward into the next move. It’s using the physicality that in one sense you might not be able to compete with and turning it around into a source you can harness that makes you that much better.
“It goes back to their sense of balance, their ability to transfer weight and their low center of gravity. And to the fact they are left-footed. It changes the geometry of a traditional type of player.”© Provided by Sporting News Mohamed Salah FTR.jpg
They are different, however, in this fundamental way: Messi constantly is producing impossible moments, whereas Salah’s specialty is destroying the notion of “Why didn’t he do this instead?” Whatever this is, whatever seems obvious in retrospect, that’s what Salah does. He does what works.
“He’s an accessible superstar because you can see why what he did worked,” Canales said. “Sometimes I’ve seen Messi do things and I’m like, ‘How did he do that?’ But Mo Salah does things and you’re saying, ‘Wow, he did that! I should try that.’
“He keeps on working. If this doesn’t work, he tries that. He doesn’t ever seem to settle into that idea of ‘I’m just going to pick my moments.’ You may not notice, but he’s always trying different things. It’s not just persistence. Because sometimes people label as persist somebody trying the same thing all the time. With Mo, it’s persistent creativity.”
The American connection to Mohamed Salah is not extreme, but it certainly has been pivotal in his career. The Liverpool FC ownership group that brought him back to the Premier League and thus to superstardom — the Fenway Sports Group headed by billionaire John Henry — is headquartered in Boston. The coach who gave Salah his first international cap — the first 26 of 57 to date, in fact — was Bob Bradley, the New Jersey native who ran the Egyptian national team from 2011-13.
To view Salah’s ascent through an American prism, however, is more difficult than one might imagine. Sifting through a decade of voting records for the Ballon d’Or shows that essentially no player in the Messi/Ronaldo age has risen from the ranks of the very good to the elite of the game in the way Salah has.
One might posit James Harden as a comparison. He averaged 16.8 points in his third season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, then was traded to the Houston Rockets and immediately saw his scoring average soar to 25.9 points. But Harden never was a starter with the Thunder. His rise in Houston could be viewed as the product of a major change in his role.
Former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner doesn’t work; his overnight success came after he’d only thrown 11 passes in his career.
One that might fit is pitcher Jake Arrieta, who had a career record of 34-32 when he began the 2015 season with the Chicago Cubs, then went out and won the Cy Young Award at 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA.
It obviously is rare.
“It’s the right player, the right time, the right coach,” Canales said. “Klopp has really given Salah the space on the field to do what he does best, including fail and try again. And he will get better as he learns something. That’s part of what’s made him such a great inspiration. People see him as accessible, not otherworldly, not with the great pedigree that Neymar has coming from a country with such a tradition of the game.”
Salah’s place on the right side of Liverpool’s dynamic 3-man forward line has been, perhaps, the most important element of his sudden rise. He has fit perfectly into Klopp’s 4-3-3 system, and teamed perfectly with center forward Roberto Firmino and left winger Sadio Mane.
They formed the highest-scoring trio in a single Champions League season. Ever. They have been so overwhelming Liverpool was able to survive the departure of creative midfielder Philippe Coutinho — who scored 12 goals through 20 games but forced a mid-year transfer to FC Barcelona — and still defeat Porto, Manchester City and Roma by a combined margin of 17-7 to reach the final in Kiev.
“Your environment is everything, and a Jurgen Klopp-type approach to playing and the — I guess it’s supporting cast — the way they play is so perfect for him in terms of the run-and-gun and fast-transition countering of team,” Lalas said. “It’s just devastating. All those things added up to make this perfect, insulated cocoon they feed off and keeps them really warm. They enjoy going out there and playing this way.”
Salah’s Liverpool season still has one more game to run, the biggest game of all, and Egypt will open in the biggest event of all June 15 at Central Stadium in Yekaterinburg in a World Cup group game against Uruguay.
“I think there had been sort of an acceptance that there were very few surprises anymore at the highest levels of European soccer,” Grant Wahl of Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated told SN. “In terms of the clubs that win domestic league titles, we kind of know who those teams are going to be. We kind of have an idea of who are going to be the teams that win Champions League or reach the final.
“I don’t think anyone would have predicted Liverpool would reach the Champions League final before the knockout rounds started. And I don’t think anyone would have predicted Salah would be one of the top three players in the world, and be doing it for such an extended period of time that it’s not just about form, or who’s hot.
“They’ve really hit on something under Klopp where that front three, it’s amazing how well they work together. It’s about chemistry more than raw individual talent. It’s really refreshing, what they’ve been able to do. We get so into individuals in how we look at sports, but I think this is a departure. Even though Salah is the star, he needed the other guys around him to help him get to this level.”
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/soccer/champions-league-2018-final-liverpools-mohamed-salah-capitalizing-on-opportunity-like-no-player-before-him/ar-AAxtRcg