The only tags that have ever properly stuck with Mo Salah at Liverpool are ‘selfish’ and ‘greedy’. That was always complete nonsense but especially so now.
It was intended to flatter but the delivery was deceptive. ‘He is perhaps as greedy a player as I have seen,’ Graeme Souness said in October 2021. ‘All the top names have an element of that but he is extremely selfish. Personal targets are important to him and he shoots from every possible angle, which frustrates his team-mates at times.’
Adding that Mo Salah ‘may even take it as a compliment that I think he is the most selfish player I have seen because he is a goal machine,’ it is difficult to imagine that opinion standing up in the court of football opinion two years later.
Souness was merely the judge, frequently levelling such claims at Salah and once suggesting he “would have been fighting” Kenny Dalglish “in the dressing room after every game” because the club’s former King “wouldn’t have tolerated it” from the true successor to his Anfield throne. Plenty more comprised an unforgiving jury, accusing Salah of constantly neglecting better options to try and inflate his personal record instead; Michael Owen once claimed the Egyptian and Sadio Mane might be sabotaging one another because the lure of *checks notes* the Golden Boot had proven too much to resist.
Salah always rejected that reputation. Jurgen Klopp, too. “He always had a quite decent number of assists,” said the Liverpool manager before two more were added at the weekend – not counting the pass to Harvey Elliott for Hugo Bueno’s own goal. “It’s just when you score 30-odd goals, it’s a side note that you have 15 or whatever assists. He has his trademark area from where he can really set up goals when he gets the ball there.”
The player himself says “the numbers talk for themselves” and they are only getting louder. It is no surprise that Salah has scored more Premier League goals than any other player since he joined Liverpool in summer 2017; that only Kevin de Bruyne has provided more assists in that time is startling.
Most Premier League assists since the start of the 2017/18 season:
De Bruyne 76
— Football365 (@F365) September 19, 2023
As part of Liverpool’s reimagined attack, Salah has embraced the mantle Harry Kane vacated upon his departure for Bayern Munich: that of world-class goalscorer and elite-level creator. Tottenham’s gradual drift into mediocrity and destructive tendency to fall in love with the worst kind of defensive-minded born winner forced their best player to evolve his game and both load the bullets and pull the trigger. He was treated as a cheat code by managers too unimaginative to devise actual attacking patterns themselves.
Salah’s transformation has been rather more natural, a necessary by-product of Liverpool’s rebuild as the island of consistent brilliance against which the choppier waters of Darwin Nunez and friends can crash.
Salah’s game has become as much about unlocking Nunez, Luis Diaz, Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota as it has his own tangible output, yet at no material cost to those same levels of productivity. “The most selfish player I have seen” has become one of the most selfless. And both iterations of the Egyptian were precisely what Liverpool needed at the time: when they lacked a defined centre-forward his movement, pace and intelligence were relied upon to create a smooth attacking machine; with different options, most reliant on a high volume of chances being created, he has developed his link-up play to almost unparalleled levels.
He never was “selfish” or “greedy”, he just performed the role Liverpool required of him better than anyone else could.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that little more than a year separates Kane and Salah, two phenomenal players who achieved their ultimate form in or around – accidental Townsend notwithstanding – their 30s.
Some still see that number in a footballing context and instinctively consider ways such a player could be phased out but arguably not even Klopp is as important to Liverpool right now. This is Salah’s athletic, mental and technical peak and the Saudi interest will only grow stronger.
No player in Europe’s top five leagues has more assists (four) or goal-creating actions (six). No player in the Premier League has created more big chances (six). No player in Europe’s top five league has a higher xAG (2.9). Forgive the statistical dump but Salah was not kidding about how chatty those numbers are. And still he feels underappreciated, laborious as such arguments usually are.
There is no better playmaker around, and precious few quite as lethal in front of goal either. ‘Selfish’ and ‘greedy’ were always nonsensical descriptions of Salah, whether offered as praise or otherwise. Never more so than now.