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Why do so many people underrate Mohamed Salah?

Mohamed Salah
(Image credit: PA)

There’s a joke among Liverpool fans on Twitter whereby they quote every time a stats account – usually the excellent OptaJoe – begins a Tweet with "Only Mo Salah..."

It’s because in the last year, or more, Salah has been on a different level to his Premier League counterparts.

This season, he leads the league in both goals and assists. In 2021, he scored six more goals than any other Premier League player.

In 2021, Salah scored 37 goals for Liverpool across all competitions - only Ian Rush scored more in a calendar year for the Reds.

Salah’s combined 25 goals and assists so far this season (after just 20 games) mean it's the fifth consecutive season he has been directly involved in 25 or more goals, which only Thierry Henry has done for longer.

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Earlier this season, in the 5-0 drubbing of Man United at Old Trafford, Salah became the first Liverpool player to score in 10 consecutive league games. He also became the highest-scoring African player in the Premier League, beating Didier Drogba’s record.

A few weeks later, he equalled Jamie Vardy’s record of scoring or assisting in 15 consecutive Premier League games.

Quite simply, he was breaking new records every time he played. And once he’d broken them he was breaking his own new record.

And yet...

Posting controversial things online for attention is a modern phenomenon, and it’s one that BBC Sport’s Garth Crooks has just about mastered. 

So when Crooks’ ‘Team of the Year’ dropped on New Year’s Day without Salah in it, we should hardly have been surprised.

Initially, the pundit failed to attempt to even justify why he hadn’t picked the player with the most goals in 2021, the league’s current top scorer and creator. Just no mention of him whatsoever. Then came a follow-up whereby he justified it on the basis that Salah had been too individually impressive. Great logic.

This a few weeks after the Egyptian had been named a quite frankly laughable seventh in the Ballon d’Or.

Salah’s laugh and shake of the head when asked about that the following week - when he scored his 19th goal in 19 games - said it all. “I have no comment,” he laughed.

His manager was more equivocal. “I was surprised, to be honest,” said Klopp. “Yes, Mo definitely should have been higher up.”

Mind, Klopp did make a good point too that “if you don’t give it to Robert Lewandowski this time, then it’s quite tricky to get it at all.”

Alan Shearer also couldn’t believe it: “Week-in week-out, year-in year-out, Salah performs magic. How he came seventh is anybody’s guess.” 

“Salah is the best in the world right now,” he added. “The best goalscorer and the best player, full stop.”

Words that are hard to argue with. Unless, seemingly, if you’re Garth Crooks or one of the voting journalists on the Ballon d’Or.

NOT EVERYBODY Where does Mohamed Salah rank in FourFourTwo's list of the world's best players?

Under-appreciated

So just why and how is Salah so under-appreciated?

His numbers and records over the past five seasons should make him regarded as one of the greatest Premier League forwards of all-time - even more staggering when you consider that he isn’t even really a forward. He plays a winger, and he certainly isn’t shy at tracking back either. He isn’t a poacher inside the penalty area like, say, Ruud van Nistelrooy, or even Michael Owen.

Perhaps with another season or two at this sustained level he'll finally get the recognition he should already receive.

Is it because he was labelled as a ‘flop’ during his short time at Chelsea, and therefore perception among some will always, perhaps subconsciously, have that in mind?

Could it be because his international exploits with Egypt are far less viewed outside of Africa than if he were playing for the likes of Brazil, Spain, England, Portugal or Argentina? Just look at how the Africa Cup of Nations is derided by many British football supporters for the answer to that one.

Is it because he is playing in an era where the two greatest footballers of all time are in their twilight years and thus the wider football world would prefer to continue to focus on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo while they’re still here. 

There will become a time in a post-Messi and Ronaldo era when a new great is heralded, and Salah should be that player. But the likelihood is that the baton will pass down to younger players in Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe.

The reality, though, is that Salah has and is performing well above the aforementioned duos and there’s no reason he won’t continue to do so for quite some time yet.

He turns 30 in the summer, but given his dedication to the game, his elite mentality, focus, healthy living and determination, you should fully expect him to continue at the very highest level well into his mid-30s ala Messi and Ronaldo.

Salah has another five years at the very top. While no Liverpool fan wants to see him leave Anfield, his contract situation is far from clear with less than 18 months remaining - and perhaps a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid is what would be required for him to finally be given the appreciation he deserves among the wider football world.

Liverpool, though, would be fine with him remaining underappreciated, because one thing is for sure, he isn’t at Anfield and that is all that matters.

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Matt Ladson is editor of This Is Anfield, the independent Liverpool news and comment website, and covers all areas of the Reds for FourFourTwo – including transfer analysis, interviews, title wins and European trophies.