Is Mohammed Salah a genuine contender for this years' Ballon D'Or?
Can the Egyptian King break the dominance of Ronaldo and Messi?
It’s the end of April, and in most cases it would be far too premature to discuss this year’s Ballon D’Or; however this year has been far from the ordinary. As we continue to witness one of the most competitive Champions League campaigns in recent history as well as numerous European leagues edging towards the 100 point mark, one man has managed to steal the spotlight.
As it stands, the signing of Mohammed Salah could be one of the biggest bargains in recent history - however there is no doubt that his arrival turned a few heads last summer. As Liverpool qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in three seasons, the Kop faithful fully expected Jürgen Klopp to strengthen his central defence and central attack. Liverpool’s kryptonite was often exposed throughout last season, lacking any real leadership and direction in defence whilst crying out for a natural goal scorer in attack. The signing of Salah seemed odd for a then-record fee of £35 million, as the club were healthy in supply out wide. 47 games and 43 goals later, Salah seems a snip at a mere £35 million – the same price the club paid for Andy Carroll in 2011.
Mohammed Salah currently leads the Premier League golden boot with 31 goals, well on his way to beat current holder Harry Kane (26 goals) to the award, as well as breaking various records on the way. Salah only needs two goals from the remaining four games to set a new Premier League record, having already smashed club goal scoring records in the process. Tuesday’s game against his former club Roma seen a further two goals (and muted celebrations) as the Red’s ran away 5-2 winners in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Anfield. Salah’s pace, dribbling ability and finishing prowess has seen Liverpool establish themselves as the favourites for this year’s European competition, and the Egyptian winger’s contribution has catapulted him in to contention for the prestigious Ballon D’Or award.
The award given to the best player of each calendar year has only seen two pairs of hands in the last decade, that of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. So, can Liverpool’s summer singing beat either of the aforementioned super-human talents to this year’s gong? His team-mate Dejan Lovren seems to think so.
“I don’t want to put any extra pressure on him and maybe this is not the right time but if he continues like that he has every right to be regarded as one of the best three in the world at the end of the year. When people talk about Ronaldo and Messi they should also talk about Salah. He deserves to be mentioned for the Ballon d’Or”
Lovren, a close friend of Salah in the Liverpool dressing room, admits that he did not think Salah would be as capable as he has shown, but believes the player and club are a perfect match. “He is just a different player to what he was. I think our style helps him a lot. He didn’t play that way for Basel or Chelsea or Roma, but the way we can find him suits him perfectly” said the Croatian.
Salah is contributing so much to the way Liverpool play, but is also benefitting from Klopp’s gegen-pressing system. The desire to have the team at such a high intensity, far up the pitch suits Salah to a tee. His raw pace and ability to find space in the channels has allowed Liverpool to capitalise on every defensive frailty of their opposition. The perfect example is their destruction of the previously beaten Manchester City. City’s lack of a natural left back, following the injury of Benjamin Mendy, allowed Salah every opportunity to cut in from the right wing and create opportunities for Liverpool’s front three. Liverpool haven’t looked back since that win in January as Klopp has now defeated Pep’s champions three times this season, whilst setting a new Champions League record for goals scored in the process.
There is no doubt that the Egyptian will be considered for this year’s Ballon D’Or award, but is he a genuine contender to win it?
The award itself is based only on calendar year performance, rather than that of a traditional football league season. Salah has already picked up the PFA Player of the year award, pipping Kevin De Bruyne to the trophy, as voted by his fellow professionals. However, it will be a mean feat to beat Ronaldo or Messi to the 2018 award, with both attackers looking for their sixth each. Salah is likely to require a title to back up his claim as this year’s best, and that is very much in the plan with Liverpool having one foot in the Champions League final in Kiev. Lionel Messi already has one trophy to his name after lifting the Copa Del Rey with Barcelona last weekend, and is likely to do the same with the La Liga title as early as this weekend. Cristiano Ronaldo has silenced his critics with an unbelievable goal haul of 20 goals in 2018, after struggling for form in late 2017. The Ballon D’Or holder cemented his status as the world’s best over the last two years after his heroics in the Champions League and European Championships, proving titles are heavily favourable in a Ballon D’Or contest.
Mohammed Salah’s latest impressive performance has prompted punters to back the 25-year-old into 7/4 joint-favourite for the Ballon d'Or alongside five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo, with Lionel Messi following at 7/2. Despite the award being heavily in the favour of attackers, the number of goals does not always dictate the positioning of the prestigious trophy. Ronaldo’s 20 goals of 2018 currently lead the way at some distance, with Messi, Salah and Antoinne Griezmann behind with 14 since January 1st. Luis Suarez and Robert Lewandowski are both having great seasons at respective clubs, and the number nine’s have 13 goals each. Although this is often the metric shown in comparison for the candidates, the merit of the goals is often valued more by voters. If Salah were to score in the Champions League final and continue his hot-streak at the World Cup with Egypt, then there is no reason why he would not be in the final shortlist. The meaningful goals are the ones we tend to remember longer, and that is why Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2016 & 2017 Ballon D’Or wins were heavily influenced by his performances in the Champions League finals and his contribution to Portugal’s European Championship win.
The tournament in Russia will be key to knowing the victor and unfortunately for Salah, Egypt are not exactly candidates in the same way that Portugal and Argentina are. It's very to tell who has the upper hand at this moment in time. Will Neymar return from injury to lead Brazil to World Cup glory? Will Messi finally overcome previous pain to lift a major trophy with Argentina? Can Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid lift a historic third consecutive Champions League? All are plausible options that may come to fruition within the next ten weeks. One thing Mohammed Salah can lay claim to is that the Premier League has never witnessed a club debut season quite like his before.
Published by Lewis McKenzie