With 4 strokes of his boot Salah scored two goals and assisted a further two to help Liverpool come out on top as 5-2 winners against AS Roma in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final and take them to within touching distance of the final showpiece of Europe’s elite competition in Kyiv and whilst he didn’t add to his tally in the second leg, Liverpool progressed 7-6 on aggregate against Roma. With his performances this season he has written himself into Anfield folklore and catapulted himself to Ballon d’Or consideration alongside players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Of course, this kind of recognition hasn’t been off the back of a single game, Salah has shown the sort of mesmeric rise that few players have ever experienced in the history of the game. Managing to score 43 goals in his first 48 games as a Liverpool player shows that he deserves to be up there with the best but has this just been a stroke of luck or has he always been destined to reach the very top?
Early career – Egypt & Switzerland
Salah began his youth career in Cairo at El Mokawloon SC, 100 miles away from where he grew up in Nagrig. Impressing his coaches enough with his development, he made his Egyptian League debut at 17 years and 10 months old in 2010. This wasn’t that impressive considering the Egyptian Premier League tends to blood its most promising young talents fairly early, an example being Taher Mohamed getting his debut at 16 years and 9 months in 2014. So while Salah had to wait quite a while for his debut in Egyptian football terms, he didn’t immediately set the league alight. He only made 3 appearances in the league and 2 appearances in the cup that season, with no goals.
In the following season, Salah gained more and more time on the pitch, eventually pinning down a starting spot. His numbers were improving and he managed to play in 24 games and even net 5 goals which was a pretty good but not spectacular return in a league as littered with below average players as the Egyptian Premier League. Starting the 2011-2012 season as an undisputed starter, Salah made the most of it, notching 7 goals in his first 15 games and this is when teams around the world started to take notice, including FC Basel.
Events around the Port Said Stadium disaster made huge shockwaves across Egypt and caused all football in Egypt to be ceased for at least a year. This expedited Salah’s exit from the league and with FC Basel keeping tabs on him for most of the previous 18 months, they looked to pounce and sign up the promising young Egyptian. FC Basel organised a friendly match against the Egyptian U-23 national team in an effort to get close to Salah and despite only playing in the second half, he ran rings around the FC Basel players and netted twice to help Egypt to a 4-3 win. Following the match, Salah stayed in Switzerland and trained with FC Basel for the next week and not long after it was announced he had signed a four-year contract with the Swiss Super League champions.
Treading a similar path to countryman Mido, moving to a team on the periphery of top European competition, Salah was expected to kick on and find another level to his game in Switzerland and that’s exactly what he did. Basel took on Steaua București in a pre-season friendly match to give Salah the opportunity to get used to his teammates and he managed to score in the game. Despite a 4-2 defeat, it was clear that Salah was ready for the next step.
In the 2012-13 season, Salah impressed for FC Basel, playing in 29 league games and scoring 5 goals from a wide position was a respectable return. The Europa League is where Salah really made his mark though, scoring in the Quarter-Final against Tottenham Hotspur to help his team progress to the Semi-Final where Salah defied the Premier League odds and scored again against another English team, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge. Basel eventually went on to lose 5-2 to Chelsea but despite that disappointment, Basel comfortably won the Swiss Super League.
The following season Salah courted controversy in the Champions League, under pressure from his native Egypt to not shake hands with the players of Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv, instead offering to fist-bump rather than proper handshakes. Salah scored in the game which saw Basel through to the next round in Champions League qualifying. He then scored twice in the playoff game against Bulgarian League champions PFC Ludogorets Razgrad which secured their place in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. His most impressive performances in the group included an equalizer in an eventual 2-1 win against Chelsea and the winner in the return leg at St. Jakob-Park where they beat Chelsea for the second time in a 1-0 win.
Following the game there were rumours that the Premier League Club were interested in signing the Egyptian and these rumours came to fruition in the January transfer window where Chelsea shelled out a reported £11 million fee to bring Salah to England, making him the first Egyptian to play for the club.
First Setbacks – England & Italy
Joining Chelsea half-way through the season wasn’t ideal for Salah and it took him time to find his feet and challenge for game time in the English capital. He scored his first goal for the club in a 6-0 win against Arsenal and scored a further goal, won a penalty and notched an assist for the club in a 3-0 win against Stoke City.
Prior to the start of the following season, Salah’s future was thrown into crisis after reports suggested he could be forced to return to Egypt to carry out military service after his registration for an education scheme was refused by the Egyptian Minister of Higher Education. Later, it was said that he has been spared of military service after a meeting with the Egyptian Prime Minister.
With the drama and stress of the military service out of the way Salah found himself in more trouble as Chelsea’s large squad had to be trimmed and being that then Chelsea Boss Jose Mourinho fancied other players more, Salah found himself shipped out to Fiorentina on loan for the season.
Choosing to wear the number 74 shirt in Florence in homage to the victims of the Port Said stadium disaster, Salah began his Fiorentina career well with goals in his first few league and Europa League games. Finishing the season with 9 goals in 26 appearances, the southern Italian team tried to make the move permanent, only for Salah to refuse the move and push for a move to the Italian capital, to play for AS Roma.
Salah joined Roma on a season-long loan deal with the club having the option to make the move permanent for a reported 15 million euros. Salah ended the season with the Giallorossi as their player of the year having scored many important goals and helping them push up the league, even scoring a goal and getting sent off in a win against his former club Fiorentina. Roma opted to exercise the clause in the loan deal and made the move permanent in the summer.
In his second season in Rome, Salah picked up where he left off and had his best season of his career, scoring 19 goals in 41 matches in all competitions to be named Roma’s Player of Season for the second time in a row. Upon the conclusion of the season, many teams were linked with buying Salah and although Roma played hard-ball, Liverpool looked to be on top to sign him.
On 22 June 2017 Liverpool announced they had signed Salah to a long-term contract for an initial £37 million fee (rising to £44 million) which broke their transfer record of £35 million in the signing of Andy Carroll in 2011.
Present & Future
In his debut season at Liverpool, Salah has scored 43 goals in 47 games including 11 goals in the Champions League. He’s taken his team from finishing 4th in the Premier League to currently being 3rd and helped push them on to the Champions League Final.
He’s a shoe-in for all of the domestic individual awards such as the Players and PFA player of the year gongs but it’s also been mooted that he may be in with a shout of winning the crowning jewel of individual accomplishments in the Ballon d‘Or, the trophy that has been shared between Messi and Ronaldo for the last 10 years. Have we finally found a player that can challenge these two world beaters? Only time will tell.