Salah, the prolific frontman making Liverpool’s ‘Fab 4’ sing
There’s a new “Fab Four” making Liverpool sing — and this time, there’s no question which member is the biggest star.
Some fans of The Beatles think John Lennon was the driving force behind the Liverpudlian band that became a global phenomenon in the 1960s. Others lean to Paul McCartney.
In the soccer version, Mohamed Salah is currently the undoubted frontman at Anfield.
The 25-year-old Egyptian is putting Liverpool’s greatest strikers in the shade with his scoring feats in his first season at the Premier League club.
His goal in the 4-0 win at Bournemouth on Sunday moved his tally to 20 in all competitions, making Salah the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush in 1986 to get to that mark in a season by Christmas.
Only one player in Liverpool’s 125-year history has reached 20 goals quicker than Salah in his 26 games — George Allan (in 19 games in 1895) — and he’s the top scorer, with 14 goals, in a Premier League campaign notable for the strength of attacking talent across England’s top teams.
Maybe Manchester City’s irrepressible playmaker, Kevin De Bruyne, is not guaranteed to be England’s Player of the Year, after all.
“I don’t go home and think, ‘My God, what a player Mo Salah is. How good is he?’” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said after the Bournemouth game, clearly attempting to downplay the hype.
Klopp is probably in the minority.
Salah became Liverpool’s record signing when he joined from Italian club Roma for 42 million euros ($49 million) in the offseason, strengthening an attack that already boasted Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. They have been labeled — much to Klopp’s irritation — the “Fab Four” by the English media, the same nickname The Beatles were given.
Instead of playing in his usual role as an out-and-out winger, Salah is being deployed virtually as a striker who drifts out wide to the right. Nominally, Firmino is the striker and the most central of the “Fab Four” but he likes to drop deep, allowing Salah to get ahead of the Brazilian in an inside-right position.
His pace enables him to get in behind defenses — Bournemouth left back Charlie Daniels simply couldn’t cope at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday — and he has developed a trademark finish, cutting inside and curling a shot into the far corner just as Arjen Robben has done for years for Bayern Munich and the Netherlands.
As an 18-year-old, when he was playing for El Mokawloon in the Egyptian league, Salah used to play as Liverpool on the FIFA video game and remembered controlling star names like Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Xabi Alonso.
He also promised to himself that he would one day be a Liverpool player after sampling the special atmosphere at Anfield during a short, underwhelming spell at Premier League rival Chelsea in 2014-15.
Salah is living out his dream, a decade after taking his first real steps in soccer when making a daily nine-hour round trip — sometimes involving five bus transfers — to get to training with El Mokawloon in Cairo from the village where he lived, Basyoun.
“It’s going good for me here,” Salah told Liverpool’s website, “but I always felt I would settle quickly. And I think I can get better, 100 percent.”
Salah’s rise places more scrutiny on Chelsea’s decision to let him go, firstly on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016 and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.
It was then-manager Jose Mourinho’s call. Just as it was to allow De Bruyne to leave Stamford Bridge around the same time. Romelu Lukaku, now the main striker for Manchester United, was also sold by Chelsea in 2014.
Chelsea could have quite the team had the trio stayed.
Salah made just six league starts for Chelsea, scoring two goals. He has no regrets about his time at the London club — “I learned how to be more professional and to become a better person and player,” he says, diplomatically — but is glad to finally be making his name in England.
It has been a good few months for Salah. In October, he almost single-handedly led Egypt to its first World Cup in 28 years, scoring the injury-time penalty that clinched a spot in the tournament in Russia.
“Salah for president,” some Egypt fans wrote on Facebook. The national team is often referred to as “Salah’s Egypt” and he could yet be one of the players to watch at the World Cup.
Thanks to his feats with Liverpool in the world’s most watched league, soccer fans will already know plenty about him.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80