Anyone who doubts Mohamed Salah’s greatness is delusional. The Liverpool striker is not just one of the finest players in the world. He is up there with the very best in the club’s history. That puts the 29-year-old in a very elite group.
There have been so many wonderful stars in the Anfield galaxy that it takes a special individual to be worthy of comparison. In living history Kenny Dalglish tops the pile, with John Barnes and Steven Gerrard able to make a case that they are the most illustrious. Graeme Souness is in the mix but the midfielder’s role was so different to Salah’s that it would be foolish to contrast the two. One thing is clear: the Egyptian has crashed the top five.
There are moments when older supporters gasp to see Salah do things that only Dalglish accomplished on a regular basis. His wriggling runs through crowded penalty boxes evoke the original “King”. The ability to transfix defenders and then squirm through the narrowest gaps between despairing challenges is a rare talent. Salah’s goals against Manchester City and Watford this month evoked Dalglish’s magnificent strike against Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup semi-final at Maine Road. They were breathtaking examples of the “Egyptian King’s” genius.
Dalglish was not only a goalscorer but a creator. He was generous and had the knack of making every outfield player look better with his astute passing. For much of his career Salah has been criticised for being selfish. That is unfair. Strikers need to score and the killer instinct is an integral part of their personality and game. Salah knows when to pass and when to shoot. His distribution is superb. The ball to Sadio Mane for the first goal in the 5-0 victory over Watford was sublime. The pass, using the outside of his foot, had the perfect weight and trajectory. It was reminiscent of a ball Dalglish played to Ian Rush against the same club back in 1982. Kopites still drool about it. Today’s youngsters will be telling similar tales about Salah in almost four decades’ time.
The winger will never be a No 10 in the same way as Dalglish but he has one thing his illustrious predecessor never had: blinding pace. He is also powerful. His mixture of speed, balance and incisiveness brings to mind Barnes. Salah’s opening goal in the 3-2 victory over Atletico Madrid this week summoned images of the Jamaican-born superstar. Barnes could hit the byline and cross or cut inside and shoot. He had the knack of making opponents bounce off him but more often he drove past hapless defenders who could not get close. In the Wanda Metropolitano Salah breezed past three opponents and loosed off his shot before a fourth could get close. The effort took a deflection before it hit the back of the net but that should not take away from the brilliance of the goal. Like Barnes, Salah is hard to knock off the ball. It needs more than a trailing leg or a last-gasp lunge to stop him running with intent. When you add in an Ian Rush-like eye for goal, Salah leapfrogs Barnes in the Liverpool hierarchy.
Liverpool players (from left) Steve Nicol, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen (obscured), Gary Gillespie, and captain Graeme Souness celebrate their 1984 European Cup triumph in Rome. Dalglish and Souness have been joined by Salah in the pantheon of Anfield greats
Gerrard sat deeper than Salah and could do almost everything. The man from Huyton’s performance at right back in a desperate late rearguard action in the Champions League final in Istanbul when Milan piled on the pressure is sometimes overlooked because of the midfielder’s attacking role in Liverpool’s comeback from three goals down to draw 3-3. The game might not have gone to penalties – and the trophy to Anfield – if not for Gerrard’s defensive heroics. The Rangers manager was that rare player who would excel in every position.
Salah is much more specialised but what he has in common with Gerrard is a driving explosiveness, the ability to shoot from distance and an eye for a subtle pass. Although it would be a mistake to shunt Salah around the pitch, his workrate and defensive productivity are underrated. He works back down the line and helps out Trent Alexander-Arnold. And Salah excels in the pressing game.
Rush did that too, and Liverpool’s record goalscorer is the most obvious yardstick to measure strikers against. Salah’s strike rate per game is considerably better than the Welshman’s but those figures cannot be taken at face value. Towards the end of Rush’s career at Anfield his role changed and he operated deeper, in a support role rather than being the focus of the attack. Even so, as brilliant as Rush was, Salah has more variety to his game.
The only possible argument against the man who cost a laughable £36.9m when he arrived on Merseyside from Roma is that he does not have the longevity of other Liverpool icons. Luis Suarez had just three full seasons in a red shirt. Fernando Torres was a Kop hero for four campaigns.
They were just passing through. Salah is already in his fifth season. That is enough to allow him to be judged against the club’s most pre-eminent performers. He has proved himself and has won the right to be ranked in the top five players in Anfield’s history.
Recency bias often causes players to be over-rated but there is no hype about Salah. His greatness is indisputable. He is comfortable in the company of Liverpool legends.
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