Anyone who doubts the greatness of Mohamed Salah is mistaken. The Liverpool striker isn’t just one of the best players in the world. He is one of the best in the club’s history. The 29-year-old belongs to a very elite group.
There were so many wonderful stars in the Anfield Galaxy that it takes a special individual to be worth a comparison. In living history, Kenny Dalglish tops the pile, with John Barnes and Steven Gerrard proving to be the most famous. Graeme Souness is in the mix, but the midfielder’s role was so different from Salah’s that it would be silly to compare the two. One thing is clear: the Egyptian crashed in the top 5.
There are moments when older followers gasp when they see Salah doing things that only Dalglish does on a regular basis. His wriggling runs through overcrowded penalty balls are reminiscent of the original « king ». The ability to pierce defenders and then wind your way through the tightest gaps between desperate challenges is a rare talent. Salah’s goals against Manchester City and Wat-ford that month were reminiscent of Dalglish’s great goal against Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup semi-finals on Maine Road. They were breathtaking examples of the genius of the « Egyptian King ».
Dalglish was not only a goalscorer, but also a creator. He was generous and had a knack for making any outfield player look better with his clever passing game. For much of his career, Salah has been criticized for being selfish. That’s unfair. Strikers have to score and the killer instinct is an integral part of their personality and their game. Salah knows when to pass and when to shoot. Its distribution is excellent. The ball for Sadio Mane for the first goal in the 5-0 win over Watford was outstanding. The pass with the outside of his foot was the perfect weight and trajectory. It was reminiscent of a ball that Dalglish Ian Rush played against the same club in 1982. Kopites are still drooling over it. Today’s youth will tell similar stories about Salah in nearly four decades.
The winger will never be a number 10 like Dalglish, but he has one thing that his famous predecessor never had: incredible pace. He is also powerful. Its mixture of speed, balance and conciseness is reminiscent of Barnes. Salah’s opening goal in this week’s 3-2 win over Atletico Madrid drew images of the Jamaica-born superstar. Barnes could hit and cross the byline, or cut and shoot. He had a gift for ricocheting opponents, but more often he drove past hapless defenders who couldn’t get near. In the Wanda Metropolitano, Salah whizzed past three opponents and lost his shot before a fourth could get close. The attempt was deflected before landing on the net, but that shouldn’t detract from the brilliance of the goal. Like Barnes, Salah is difficult to knock off the ball. It takes more than a trailing leg or a final lunge to keep him from running on purpose. If you add a rushing eye for goal, Salah will overtake Barnes in the Liverpool hierarchy.
Gerrard sat lower than Salah and could do almost anything. The man of Huyton’s right-back performance in a desperate late rearguard action in the Champions League final in Istanbul when Milan put pressure is sometimes overlooked because of the midfielder’s offensive role in Liverpool’s comeback from three goals to three draws -3. The game might not have gone to penalties – and the trophy to Anfield – if it hadn’t been for Gerrard’s defensive exploits. The Rangers manager was the rare player who would excel in any position.
Salah is much more specialized, but what he shares with Gerrard is a driving explosiveness, the ability to shoot from a distance and an eye for a subtle pass. While it would be a mistake to move Salah around on the pitch, his pace of work and defensive productivity are underestimated. He works across the board and helps Trent Alexander-Arnold. And Salah excels in the pressing game.
Rush did too, and Liverpool’s all-time top scorer is the most obvious yardstick by which strikers can measure themselves. Salah’s per-game hit rate is significantly better than the Welshman’s, but those numbers cannot be taken at face value. Towards the end of Rush’s career on Anfield, his role changed and he acted deeper, in a supportive role, rather than being the focus of the attack. Still, as brilliant as Rush was, Salah has more variety in his game.
The only possible argument against the man who cost a ridiculous £ 36.9m when he came to Merseyside from Roma is that he is doesn’t have the longevity of other Liverpool icons. Luis Suarez only had three full seasons in the red jersey. Fernando Torres was a Kop hero for four campaigns.
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You were just passing through. Salah is already in its fifth season. That is enough to measure him against the outstanding performers of the club. He has proven himself and won the right to be one of the top five players in Anfield history.
Timeliness biases often lead to players being overrated, but there is no hype about Salah. Its size is undeniable. He feels comfortable in the company of Liverpool legends.
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