Mohamed Salah is one of Liverpool’s best-ever transfers - and one of Chelsea’s worst

The Premier League’s top scorer hit two goals in midweek to warm up for the final

Tony Evans
Sunday 27 February 2022 14:54
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Even if Chelsea leave Wembley today with the League Cup and beat Liverpool in the final, they will depart the stadium with a sense of ‘this is what you could have had.’ What they could have had is Mohamed Salah, who is worth significantly more than English football’s secondary domestic cup.

The Egyptian spent 12 months at Stamford Bridge eight years ago after signing for the London club from Basel. In truth, Chelsea did not really want him back in 2014. He was bought in part because Juan Mata was unexpectedly sold to Manchester United and a replacement was needed to bolster the squad. The other reason was to keep him away from Anfield. Liverpool wanted him badly.

Well, almost everyone at Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers was sceptical. The Northern Irishman was in the midst of his most successful on Merseyside and his team were about to embark on a run of form that would end with a near-miss in the title race. Rodgers prevaricated, Chelsea gazumped their rivals and the frustration was such at Anfield that in one internal communication a member of Fenway Sports Group (FSG) told a fellow owner that he was “fighting the urge to call [Rodgers] and tear him a new a**hole.”

Even Salah’s biggest advocates could not imagine how the winger would develop. He has been tearing up the entire Premier League since signing for Liverpool five years ago. The 29-year-old has got better with age. His passing is superb. Not only does he lead the division in scoring, he is joint top of the assists list with Trent Alexander-Arnold. Even if Salah left Anfield tomorrow, his place among the club’s greats is assured.

He is a very different player to the one that Jose Mourinho thought was too lightweight – physically and mentally – for the Premier League. Rodgers took a similar view and both men were probably right eight years ago.

The 21-year-old Salah was not ready for the rigours of English football. Ironically, the forward had a bit-part in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory that effectively ruined Liverpool’s title challenge in front of the Kop. He played for the first hour of the game, barely noticed by anyone as the focus was on Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip that led to the opening goal.

Salah played just 19 times for Chelsea and scored two goals. Liverpool remained keen to bring him to the northwest and after a loan move to Fiorentina and a permanent switch to Roma, they finally got their chance. The £34 million they paid Roma was one of the best pieces of business in the club’s history.

Chelsea did not exactly fall on hard times when they parted company with Salah. They have won two titles, a Champions League, an FA Cup, an EFL Cup and the Europa League in the intervening years. That is a substantial haul of trophies.

Stamford Bridge is not a place where players get time to emerge and progress. Kevin De Bruyne went through similar growing pains during his time on Chelsea’s books. It must be galling, though, for those associated with the west London club to think that they let two of the game’s finest talents slip through their fingers.

At the moment Salah has a strong case to be regarded as the world’s best player.

He suits Jurgen Klopp’s style perfectly, is clinical in front of goal, passes with precision and presses hard when the opposition have the ball. Liverpool have a multitude of attacking options but Salah is the deadliest. Thomas Tuchel will have to find a way of neutralising the striker’s threat.

The problem for FSG is that Salah’s contract is running down. In the summer he will have one season left. He wants – and deserves – parity with the Premier League’s top earners. Paying him in the region of £400,000 per week would be a risk for Liverpool because he will be 30 by the time next season starts. Letting him leave would be a bigger gamble. The most remarkable thing about Salah is that he is still improving.

Today at Wembley he can send another message to Liverpool’s owners. He has nothing to prove to anyone – even his former team – and every club in football wishes they had Salah in their side.

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