Mohamed Salah and the eternal greatness of simplicity
The Liverpool forward recently scored his 100th Premier League goal.
There is a quote from the Egyptian Book of the Dead that reads “All things are possible. Who you are is limited by who you think you are.”
One does wonder if this quote applies to Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah at all. The 29-year-old scored one of the Premier League’s best goals when he dribbled his way past three Manchester City players and scored his side’s second goal in a tightly contested 2-2 draw at Anfield.
The plaudits showered on the forward, who arrived at Liverpool for what now seems like a bargain in £44 Million, were endless. One of those was that Salah is the greatest winger ever in the history of the Premier League. This notion was bound to be contested by fans across the globe, who immediately responded that he was one of the great wingers and not the best. Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Ryan Giggs, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg were some of the names that have long been in contention for that coveted title.
But it is worth debating. Is Salah the greatest Premier League winger of all time?
Since 2017, the Egyptian has racked up 101 goals and 36 assists in 151 PL appearances for the Reds. It is a sign of his consistency that since 2017-18, only in one season has his goal tally dipped marginally below his XG for the season. A first league title for Liverpool in 20 years, the sixth European Cup accompanied by a host of individual awards placed him into the pantheon of league and club greats.
He has netted once every 130 minutes for Liverpool and is the fastest to score 100 goals for the club in fewer top-flight appearances than any other player in Liverpool history. The plaudits for his solo effort against Manchester City immediately drew the ire of Chelsea fans, who claimed that Eden Hazard’s goal against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in the title-winning 2016-17 campaign was better.
Hazard was also a player, who could rival Mohamed Salah on most goal-scoring metrics in the Premier League and in terms of style of play. His eight seasons at Chelsea yielded 85 league goals and 56 assists. Like Salah, he too won a European trophy for his club and was part of two title-winning campaigns under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.
Individual awards followed as well, but in relative terms he did not have the same level of impact that Salah can have on games. Consistency in goalscoring and also a lack of defensive contributions could hamper his chances of being the greatest Premier League winger ever. The semi-final performances against Salah’s former club AS Roma and in the numerous nervy games against Manchester City and Tottenham were separated only by elite performances from Liverpool’s Egyptian wizard.
If Chelsea fans had a reason to claim that one of their own was the greatest Premier League winger, so did the Manchester United fans, who until a few weeks ago were in ecstasy about the return of a player who goes toe-to-toe with Lionel Messi for the title of the greatest player of all-time. Cristiano Ronaldo’s first spell at Manchester was one where he was a conventional winger with two industrious forwards ahead of him. His six seasons at Manchester yielded 84 goals, 31 of which came in a glittering 2007-08 campaign for both the player and the club as they won the Premier League and the Champions League. The Portuguese also won the coveted Ballon d’Or trophy in that season.
Like Hazard, Ronaldo was not consistent as a winger in the first three seasons of his Manchester United career which saw a return of 18 goals in total. Once Sir Alex Ferguson altered his formation to make the best use of his two fast forwards in Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, it allowed Ronaldo to take up more central positions and thereby increasing his goalscoring opportunities. This also took him away from the stereotype that he was just a winger.
Mohamed Salah, on the other hand, has netted in excess of 15 goals in each of his four seasons at Anfield and all of them as a player on the right side of a front three or a three-man midfield. The gravity of this feat is further understood when you consider that Salah played in the 2017-18 Champions League final against Real Madrid and rushed back from injury to represent Egypt in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In addition, we should also note that due to the pandemic, he was among many others who did not have the benefit of a period of deserved rest at the end of the 2019-20 campaign.
Robert Pires is another name that does spring to mind when we talk of great Premier League wingers. The Frenchman was part of Arsenal’s Invincibles squad that swept all before them in England. The France international warmed up to the league in his first two seasons before scoring 14 goals each in his next three seasons with the Gunners. What could count against Pires is his ability to impact games on his own, something that Salah has shown consistently across his Liverpool career.
People were quick to write Salah off after his underwhelming experience at Chelsea, which was down to the manager’s inability to fit a budding talent into his rigid system. He was seen as a pure winger or sometimes an inside forward. However, true to the Egyptian quote at the beginning of his article, he adapted his game and showed his full potential in Italy and subsequently England.
It would be unfair to expect any of the above names to tick every box in a winger/attacker’s game to be called the greatest. However, given Mohamed Salah’s consistency and his ability to churn out moments of magic, he is without a doubt the closest candidate towards being given the title of the greatest Premier League winger.
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