Salah should for­get about be­com­ing a galác­tico – Liver­pool is his per­fect home

Egyp­tian is hu­man, a lit­tle in and out at times, and all the more en­dear­ing for it

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - Soccer - Bar­ney Ronay

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.

In­tense pres­ence

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 peo­ple in this part of the world 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.

Pat­tern

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?

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. – Guardian

PHO­TO­GRAPH: REUTERS

Mo­hamed Salah: Mido sug­gested the Liver­pool player’s move to Spain is now a near-in­evitabil­ity.

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