Mohamed Salah literally came from nowhere to stake a claim for a place in the UEFA and FIFA Best Player awards. Before last season, the Egyptian has never been in the conversation for the best player award. But when a player goes from 15 goals in the 2016/17 campaign for Roma in the Italian Serie A to a whopping 32 in 36 Premier League matches for Liverpool last term, plus another 11 in the Champions League he pushes himself into the conversation.
That is especially so when he totally dusted the opposition taking Liverpool to the Champions League final, and a top-four finish in the domestic league. Emerging as the league’s highest goalscorer ensured he edged Kevin De Bruyne to the PFA Player of the Year award despite the fact that the Belgian was the best player in a team that won both the Premier League title and the League Cup.
But that was not all.
On the continent, he was recognised as one of the best players in the world. A place in the top three of both the UEFA and FIFA awards shortlist while serial winners like Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and even Neymar missed out says a lot about the player’s impact last season.
The question now is: Can he do it again?
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been at the top for so long because they have consistently outperformed others. The last ten years have been largely about the two players as they have had the Ballon d’Or all to themselves.
Only Neymar and Griezmann have come close in recent times. But after Luka Modric won the UCL and emerged the most valuable player at the World Cup, he was voted the best player in the UEFA awards thereby upstaging the duo.
Salah has it all to do to stay in the conversation. Having one exceptional season is good but consistency is the name of the game. He has started the new season well, but lags behind his front three partners in goals and assists at the moment, in the league.
Sadio Mané has started the season as the most prolific of the trio. The Senegalese has scored four times in five PL games for Liverpool. His Brazilian counterpart Roberto Firmino has contributed two strikes and two assists. Salah has chipped in two goals and an assist.
Together, the three have scored eight out of the team’s total of 11 so far. That’s great for the club as their combination was instrumental to its success last term. They all hit 20+ goals to help the team progress beyond the previous season’s achievements.
On a personal level, Salah faces an uphill battle. He has set the bar very high for himself with last season’s performance. The 26-year-old will need to fire the Reds to another UCL final. He also has to stand out from the rest in the team as the Merseysiders aim to challenge Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to the league title.
So far, Mané and Firmino have both outshone him. However, the season has just begun. There is still much time for the African Player of the Year to rise to the top. Even though he has not been at his best as was seen in the game against Tottenham where he failed to make any impact, he still a better player on his day compared to his teammates.
The Egyptian captain is still the starman at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp has stressed the fact that his team is not a one-man team and is not reliant on Salah. But even he cannot run away from the fact that Liverpool is not quite the same without the world best nominee.
Liverpool’s capitulation in the Champions League final when the winger was injured pretty much tells the story. No doubt, the team is stronger now with the recent additions. But they will have to make him the focal point of the attack to go one better than last season.
Mané, in particular, has been accused in certain quarters of failing to pass the ball to Salah on some occasions this season where the latter could have easily buried such chances. That will need to change from the whole team. And if it does, the reigning PFA Player of the Year is capable of taking it from there and rising to last season’s heights.