Becoming Inevitable – Mohammed Salah’s Premier League Rebirth
It has been a mere four years since Mohammed Salah arrived in Merseyside. Four years since he drove inexorably through Premier League defences, mercilessly putting defenders to the sword and leaving goalkeepers helpless.
After 38 weekends, there were 32 goals, the most anyone had scored in a league season in its current form. Looking back, the magnificence of the achievement is inherently obvious; but the goals, there are so many of them, in so little time. Almost every week he would, someway, somehow apply the finishing touch. With unerring efficiency, unfailing reliability he is always there.
One of the fastest players to reach 100 goals for a single club in the Premier League Salah has firmly established himself as a Liverpool legend. A pivotal piece in bringing the sixth Champions League title to Merseyside and helping the Reds to end their 30 year-long league title drought. It is quite clear that Mohammed Salah has crafted an indisputable Premier League legacy, but he had to take the hard road to get there.
After an impressive 10 goal season for Swiss side Basel in the 2013/14 season – which included two goals in two games against Chelsea in the Champions League group stages – Salah earned himself a move to Stamford Bridge. His one full season at Chelsea was, put simply, difficult. Arriving in London alongside players like Andre Schurrle, Thorgan Hazard, Willian, Christian Atsu and others, it was always going to be tough to distinguish oneself.
This is not necessarily due to a qualitative deficit on Salah’s part; rather, the sheer number of bodies in the way of the consistent minutes he would need to develop and improve. And so after 19 appearances and just 2 goals, Salah packed his bags and began on his path to redemption, a hero’s journey in many ways. One that would eventually bring him back to where it all began.
His first stop was in Florence, and donning the famed La Viola colours, the upturn in the Egyptian’s fortunes was immediate. Under the bright lights one night in Turin, Salah was imperious against the Italian champions, Juventus. A solo breakaway and a calmy stroked finish into the bottom corner sunk the Old Lady.
After that season, he moved to the capital and joined Roma, where he refined his craft in the wide areas. Simultaneously becoming more clinical and more adept at finding teammates, he quickly became a central figure in the Roma setup. 29 goals over two seasons in red and gold confirmed it beyond doubt; our hero was now ready to return and face the challenge that once proved overwhelming.
When the return ticket eventually arrived in the red of Liverpool, Salah immediately seized his opportunity, he knew it was time. That 2017/18 season passed by in a blur, there were goals aplenty, Anfield was rapturous, and the league bowed before its new king.
Now, it may have been a function of some innate cynicism, our collective disbelief at what we had just witnessed or a plain lack of faith, but that had to be it right? He had to have found a loophole to empty his tank all at once. There couldn’t be any more goals left. And so the think pieces – much like this one – were written, the tweets hurriedly composed and the hot takes delivered.
On opening day, Liverpool hosted West Ham at Anfield. There was nothing special about this game, apart from the fact that fans had been starved of their weekly fix of the beautiful game for a couple of months. Soon the whistle blew, the crowd roared, and it was as if the last season had never ended. And of course, Mohammed Salah scored. Just before the 20-minute mark, just under 2 yards out and like clockwork, Salah applied leather to synthetic plastic and Anfield erupted. Normal service resumed.
The fact that he had scored on the opening day prior to that and in every opening day since then – 5 of them in total, the most consecutive opening days scored in ever – is just another piece of evidence of the Egyptian’s impressive consistency. At the beginning of every season, before suspicions that he is finally going to decline can gain any sort of credence, he is on hand to silence them, crush them at the source.
Tap-ins, headers, long-range screamers, penalty box poaching goals, chipped finishes he’s scored them all. The regularity with which the Egyptian finds the net seems to be driven by an almost scary determination to find a way through any defence he is faced with.
A quick look through the many youtube compilations available presented a couple of interesting themes when it comes to Salah’s goals. There are the breakaway finishes, exhibitions of blistering pace and ruthless efficiency. In 19/20 at home against Manchester United, Liverpool was a goal up in injury time and Alisson found Salah after a United corner. Completely isolated from any teammates he carried it forward from halfway, held off Daniel James, and then he coolly slipped it past David de Gea. Calm, ruthless, cold-blooded.
The other one involves a lovely form of penalty box dance with Salah in the penalty box, twisting inside, chopping back outside absolutely determined to engineer space for a shot. All the while, defenders throw themselves at his feet, the desperation apparent in the flying attempts to shut up shop in the face of this annoyingly persistent customer.
Just when you think the chance is gone, he should have passed the ball, he finds a little space and there it is. Salah has found the back of the net. Against Watford in 2018, Salah found himself tangoing with half of the entire Watford team but the end result was unsurprising. He taunts, he torments, he teases but, in the end, the net will bulge and the crowd will roar because Mohammed Salah is inevitable.
At the highest level, the absolute top of the game, it feels like there are rarely any surprises. With the increased access to data and analysis, it is rare for a shakeup to occur at that elite level without anybody being aware of or predicting it prior to the fact.
There is always a clutch of young players who have huge expectations thrust on them; only a few of them become elite, the rest miss that level to varying degrees, and then the cycle begins again. There are players who come into their own slightly later, dodging the wunderkind train and developing with less fanfare.
Even in this case, it is quite unlikely that they break into that elite class. Salah did that with the biggest bang possible, and in the years since, has cemented himself as one of the best in the world. A truly remarkable player who deserves all the recognition and more.
By: Wepea Buntugu / @Wepea_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Michael Regan – Getty Images