Why Mo Salah Should be Crowned Winner of the Ballon d’Or
The stage was set. The mission was clear. A European night under the lights of Anfield to show the world that Liverpool deserved to be back on European football’s greatest stage – the Champions League final. Another chance for Mohamed Salah to show that he belonged there too.
After 35 minutes of Tuesday night’s semi-final first leg against Roma, the ball found itself at the feet of the Egyptian. Salah, Manolas, 55,000 people inside the stadium, and millions around the world braced for the inevitable. And then, with one swift motion, Salah sent the ball sailing into the top corner of Alisson Becker’s goal.
“Mo Salah, Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wing,” Anfield roared. Their Egyptian King would go on to score again and set up two goals in what was one of the single-greatest Champions League performances in the competition’s storied history.
Seeing the 25-year-old score has become a regular occurrence for Reds’ fans, but up until 35 minutes had gone in their Champions League semi-final first-leg, Kopites had been alone in their belief that he was the main challenger to two all-time greats for the elusive Ballon d’Or.
That’s despite breaking record-upon-record for his club domestically, being named African Footballer of the Year, winning the PFA Player of the Year award in his debut season, and carrying his native Egypt side into their first World Cup Finals appearance for almost 30 years.
The competition is fierce; Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are automatic front runners for football’s most prestigious individual award before a ball is even kicked in anger. Ronaldo himself looks set to carry Los Blancos into their fourth Champions League final appearance in five years, further strengthening his case for a third-straight Ballon d’Or win.
Take nothing away from the Portuguese forward but, Champions League aside, his performances have been far less impressive than those we have become accustomed to. Ronaldo has always been viewed as a selfish, shoot-first player. I don’t necessarily share that view, but the statistics will tell you that he has taken more shots-per-game than any other player in the Champions League and 52 more in total than Salah.
Salah is different. He admits himself that his primary focus is to create, not score, goals for his teammates. It just so happens that his left foot has become kryptonite for opposition goalkeepers. It’s not like his goals are tap-ins either; he can caress the ball into the top corner, chip some of the best ‘keepers in world football, and carefully plot his way through the dangling legs of defenders à la Lionel Messi.
Give Us a Break
Those that oppose Salah winning the Ballon d’Or suggest the Reds have not done well enough in the league, that he’s a one season wonder or that he just simply isn’t as good as the La Liga pair. My argument is that Ronaldo won the award in 2013 despite winning just Spain’s equivalent to the Community Shield; the Ballon d’Or is an award based on a player’s performance in a single season and Salah, at the time of writing this, has contributed to more goals than both Ronaldo and Messi.
Should Liverpool avoid a monumental implosion in Rome on Wednesday night, it looks likely that Real Madrid will be the side that Liverpool would face in Kiev. That would pit the two bookmakers’ favourites for the 2018 Ballon d’Or head to head in the Champions League final. It’s possible that should Messi and Ronaldo miss out on the World Cup, the Ballon d’Or could be decided that night in Kiev.
Salah has been defying odds since he grew up on the dusty streets of Nagrig, Egypt. If there’s any justice in the world, he will defy all the odds and be the man that finally wrestles football’s greatest crown from two of the best to ever grace the game.