At this moment in time, it’s hard to make a case for anybody in world football playing as well as Mohamed Salah. Yes, that includes Lionel Messi.
The Liverpool forward looks back to his very best this season after a difficult time of things last year (a period in which he still scored 22 Premier League goals), putting behind him some of the suggestions he was sulking.
Indeed, Salah now seems ready to go again at Anfield and perhaps lead his side to another Premier League title. If he does, the Egpytian will surely go down as an all-time great. Still, things could have been so different.
Where Liverpool simply do not have the backing of the likes of the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea, their business model is more reliant on raising money through players sales. Without the £142m exit of Philippe Coutinho in 2018, it’s almost impossible to imagine the spree that brought Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Alisson Becker to the club being sanctioned by their FSG owners.
While important not to try and frame a set of owners who attempted to join the European Super League as a plucky little group taking it to the established elite, FSG just simply don’t have the money of the state-backed clubs or as much commercial revenue as Manchester United.
So then, it’s not hard to imagine that – had footballing finances not taken an almighty hit following the pandemic – at least one of Salah, Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane would have been sold in order to generate funds with which to refresh a team who, last season, looked stale.
Given how often Salah appears to have flirted with a move to Spain (giving teasing interviews to the likes of Real Madrid-mouthpiece Marca), it seems safe to assume it would have been him. He, after all, is the big star of the three, the cream of the crop.
In the aftermath of the Premier League title win, it seemed as if Salah was ready to go. For Liverpool, too, it made logical sense. Considering the problems at both City and United – as well as a Chelsea side under Frank Lampard – there was a chance to build a dynasty. Just as Sir Alex Ferguson used to, it seemed as if Klopp was ready to refresh in order to stay on top. Clearly, for the most unforeseen of circumstances, that did not happen.
Of course, it is of little surprise that Liverpool are benefitting from having a player of Salah’s quality available. That much should be obvious. However, the context of the saga, seemingly having to keep him as the money in Spain dries up and the notion of paying big fees for players nearing 30 gets more and more ridiculous, means that was never an absolutely foregone conclusion. It would have been easy – natural almost – to expect a dip in performance.
Through the brilliance of the player, as well as the emotional bond Klopp has created with his team, this is a Liverpool side ready to go again, even if all the odds are (relatively) stacked against them.
That is a mark of how well they have adapted to a post-pandemic world. If Liverpool win the league this year (or even challenge until the business end of the campaign given the investment of their rivals) it will be one of the most remarkable achievements of Klopp’s career. In order to do that, he has to have Salah at his best. As clear as that is now, things could have been entirely different.
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