Why Mohamed Salah should resist the pull of La Liga
Such a move would be terrible for the Liverpool striker – and for more reasons than one
Liverpool’s Mo Salah can go on to be a real hero of the club. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Is English football in danger of losing Mohamed Salah to Real Madrid or Barcelona because he is now simply too good to stay?
Mido certainly thinks so. Yes: that Mido. The same Mido who once issued a formal apology to Middlesbrough fans for being too fat. The same Mido who is, it turns out, a very good pundit these days and who raised a doubly interesting point this week about Salah’s trajectory in this, his second season of outright Premier League supremacy.
No doubt there are Liverpool supporters who might question how well-qualified Mido is to talk about these wider matters. But then there is also probably a detailed academic paper to be written on the way the punditry prospects of retired footballers are linked inexorably to the rise and fall of various features of their own background.
For two decades the market was dominated by pinched, Scottish-accented Liverpool players of the mid- to late-1980s, a culture maintained to this day by Graeme Souness who approaches each commentary stint in a state of spleen-crippling horror at the decadence of modern life, while also remaining apparently convinced during his on-screen appearances that everyone in the room is secretly laughing at his shoes.
In this game of snakes and ladders, otherwise overlooked retired footballers find a second life as “ex-Manchester City” or “six seasons at Chelsea”, even though Chelsea weren’t very good at the time. Anyone who played for Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger, for example, is still deemed a vital and necessary voice.
Not that this is a bad thing. There may be no obvious reason why, say, Martin Keown should be such a high-profile public figure, but he has become an agreeably intense presence, dispensing his views with an angry, whispering urgency, like the haunted whistleblower in a grimly authentic spy drama who grabs your arm and snarls into your face on a bench in St James’s Park about – for some reason – the inherent flaws in zonal marking, before being found strangled in a phone box six hours later.
And so on to Salah and Mido, who has been prominent on the football-opinion circuit in the past year or so. Mido on the radio. Mido having opinions about transfers. For a while this seemed like an anomaly. Wait, you felt like saying, but what does Yakubu think about this? Or Corrado Grabbi?
Except, of course, Mido is in his own way riding the Salah train, using his status as the Egyptian football man we in Britain know best. And happily he’s a good pundit too, unafraid to simply say stuff. A while back I heard Mido talking about the way footballers present a part of their own character on the pitch, that a player can be at his best only when he allows some vital, empowering part of his character to be present and visible in his play, and I thought, yeah, Mido, excellent point.
It was a point that came back this week as Mido suggested Salah’s move to Spain was now a near-inevitability, that his continuing success will become “a problem” for Liverpool as the super clubs of La Liga look to fill imminent or existing star vacuums.
Mido is right too. Salah would be the obvious candidate for such a role, barring the relocation of the Neymar-industrial complex, a deal that would involve remortgaging the moon and presenting Neymar himself with a solid gold bowler hat handmade by angelic supernatural sex mermaids.
It has been the pattern of the past 10 years. Any Premier League attacker who can maintain an A-list run over consecutive seasons tends to become a target. And while Salah was relatively quiet in the defeat by Manchester City on Thursday night, he has been consistently excellent, throwing off his early-season rustiness to become even better: more central, more creative and just as prolific.
And yet, this would still be a terrible idea – and for more reasons than one. Most obviously, is Salah really the right player for all that? He’s not a machine-attacker at the ludicrously sustained levels set by the Messi-Ronaldo godhead for the past 10 years.
Salah is human, a little in and out at times, and all the more endearing for it. He hasn’t scored a goal against the Premier League top four since April. He is a delicate rather than steamrollering talent, at a club where he has been nurtured in exactly the right way.
Why change this? Why expose yourself to that impossible star vacuum? Why run the risk of becoming Messi’s “Moyes”? Salah may or may not be good enough and relentless enough for this. But the fact is the old galáctico system feels a little broken and jaded, another example of the unquestioned idea that “progress” and “ambition” – more, bigger, richer – is always good, even when we already have quite enough.
There are other ways the world can work. Just as the defining note of this Liverpool team isn’t hunger for victory at all costs but its sense of heart and spirit, that fleeing of fraternal collectivism.
In part this is to do with Jürgen Klopp’s ideas about nurture and steady improvement. Salah has been an obvious beneficiary of this human touch, to the extent the idea he must now leave seems not just odd but illogical.
No doubt Mido has his own insight into how this might pan out in the cold hard reality. But it doesn’t mean the machine can’t be resisted. Or that success will naturally follow for a player who seems to be in a place where he makes perfect sense, is operating at his own outer limits, and is above all happy.