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Mo Salah and the Weight of a Nation

Liverpool v Southampton - Premier League
Mo Salah has been in superb form Liverpool this season

 

His form for Liverpool this season has vindicated the significant investment made to bring Mo Salah back to the Premier League, but while he brings redemption for Jurgen Klopp and his initially questionable summer addition, the Egyptian star also has one eye on leading his country to the World Cup finals.

The 25-year old is enjoying the best time of his career at Anfield, and his goals have helped erase a forgettable time at Chelsea, where he failed to make the grade under Jose Mourinho.

He is not the first flair player to suffer under Mourinho’s dictatorship, and will not be the last, but any indication that Salah would not be able to cut it at the highest level, is now very much in the past.

Real Madrid are the latest club reported to be interested in the signing of Salah, and it is easy to understand why. But while people will focus on his form as his goals justify Klopp’s heavy metal approach to taking on the rest of the Premier League, it is the character of Salah that should be studied when assessing his strengths and weaknesses.

Fortuitous lifeline

Few players are allowed a second chance in the Premier League, and having struggled to make an impression at Chelsea, many would’ve believed that the opportunity had passed him by.

Loan moves to Fiorentina and Roma offered hope prior to a permanent switch to the Italian capital, but the consistent form of El Mokawloon’s youth product suggested a brighter future than Serie A

 

AS Roma v US Citta di Palermo - Serie A
 Mo Salah made a positive impression during his time in Italy

 

The Italian top-flight was once the place to be for any top-level player, but while clubs like Juventus can still attract the biggest names, the rest of the league serves only as a springboard for a better future elsewhere.

Salah embraced the challenge of proving Chelsea and Mourinho wrong, and it his character, as much as his attacking flair that has brought him deserved redemption.

One nation. One man. One dream

However, the biggest challenge of his career will come next summer. The talisman of the Egyptian national team, his ability has meant that his presence in the side comes with enormous pressure, and there was no more fitting a player to score the last-minute penalty against Congo that ensured Egypt will compete at the finals in Russia next summer.

With the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders as he placed the ball on the penalty spot, it was a strike that required mind over matter, and it was his mental strength rather than the power in his shot that ensured the ball would find the back of the net.

An entire nation celebrated his name, and he will be the focus of the national team when they take to the biggest stage.

But first, Salah has domestic and European business to attend to, and he is quickly becoming a firm favourite among the Kop faithful, through his form for Liverpool this season.

Scoring for fun in the Premier League and in the UEFA Champions League, Salah has embraced the attacking flair of Brazilian duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, and they are a formidable combination, on their day.

 

Wigan Athletic v Liverpool - Pre Season Friendly
Jurgen Klopp has brought the best out of Mo Salah this season

 

Salah arrived at Anfield in the summer for a sizeable transfer fee, and many questioned the logic of signing a player that had failed to make an impact on the Premier League previously. The criticism was based on the influential ignorance of the majority of outspoken fans, but Klopp had seen something in Salah to know that he could be a key part of his system.

The price-tag may have been an additional weight on his shoulders, but Salah returned to the Premier League with a point to prove to his critics, and more importantly, himself.

What really drives Mo Salah?

His faith has shaped the determination and belief that defines his own character, and his negative experience at Chelsea has provided him with the necessary drive and determination to succeed.

But while he will enjoy his success at Liverpool, he is not the sort of player who seems destined to remain at one club for any significant amount of time, and it is his passion for representing his country that will offer the overriding personal connection when he reflects back upon his playing career.

He has already made history by scoring the two goals against Congo in the decisive 2-1 victory that ensured Egypt would return to FIFA’s top table for the first time since 1990, but the challenge for Salah and his fellow countrymen will be to make an impact in Russia.

His current form for club and country suggests that this is indeed possible, and his stock will rise significantly if he can realise this particular dream.

 

Liverpool v Chelsea - Premier League
Mo Salah has embraced the challenge of proving former club Chelsea wrong

 

Drawn in Group 1 for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals against host nation Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, the Pharaohs certainly have a chance of progressing, but it will be against the odds. It will be difficult, but Salah can, once again, prove to be the difference, and mixing his ability with his current form and confidence will make him a formidable opponent.

 

What the World Cup means to Salah

International football is often labelled as a lesser entity in the modern game, but for players like Mo Salah, it has a far deeper and personal meaning that what he can ever feel at club level.

His winning strike against Congo in October saw more outpouring of emotion than any club goal ever could, and representing Egypt in June will be a defining moment of his career, regardless of how the Pharaohs fare.

Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Egypt will compete against host nation Russia at the World Cup next summer

 

And it is that passion that makes players like Mo Salah also embrace the challenge of club football, as it takes their professionalism to a much higher level than any financial reward could ever provide.

Club trophies will define his career to others, but Salah can be a star at the World Cup just like he has been on the domestic and European stage this season, and that will mean far more.

But it is the way he carries the hopes and dreams of his club and his country that defines him as a person and as a footballer. Liverpool and Egypt are very different footballing entities, but both now share the common bond of Salah and what he can offer them.

Talent can be discovered, but finding the character that will bring the best out of it is another, and Liverpool appear to have struck gold this time around.

mm
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