Amid the talk of whether Liverpool should seriously entertain a £200m+ bid from Saudi Arabia for Mohamed Salah, there has been one claim that has largely gone unchallenged.
As the figures touted in the press go up and up, increasing numbers of fans and pundits have begun to err on the side of selling.
One typical argument goes likes this: at 31, Salah is past his best and Liverpool won’t get a better offer.
The second half of that sentence may well be true – everybody has a price, after all – but the first part… is Liverpool’s number 11 really past his peak?
While Liverpool’s form has dipped and waned, the reality is that Salah continues to be unwaveringly consistent.
In his last three full seasons, he has played in exactly 51 games in all competitions for Liverpool each time, scoring 31, 31 and 30 goals.
His goal return has an almost death and taxes inevitability to it.
With his strike in the 3-0 win over Aston Villa at the weekend, Salah became the first player to score or assist in ten consecutive Premier League appearances, since… any guesses?
Himself, back in 2021.
While he is unlikely to rank as highly this year (largely due to Liverpool’s performances rather than his own), Salah was named fifth in the 2022 Ballon d’Or rankings – his highest ever placement.
Even amid Liverpool’s system change and midfield rebuild, with talk suggesting he would become more of a facilitator than finisher, the Reds’ record Premier League goalscorer can’t help but be the busiest man in the attack. No forward has had more shots, completed more dribbles or played more key passes for Jurgen Klopp’s side before the international break.
If Salah is past his best, he certainly isn’t acting like it.
He may be the wrong side of 30, but the parameters are changing in terms of elite footballers’ peak years. As a case in point, of the 2022 Ballon d’Or top 10, only three were under the age of 30.
Salah is famously obsessive with his fitness and conditioning, his availability record remains exemplary and, barring any major disaster like serious injury, you would expect him to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and others who have continued to excel at the highest of high levels well into their mid-30s.
He remains beloved in a way few have ever known at Liverpool and – regardless of the Reds’ squad planning and budgeting up to and beyond the end of his current contract in 2025 – Salah could feasibly continue to be one of the better forwards around for another three to five years.
So, why then would he even want to consider stepping away from the top table of football before his time is up?
The obvious answers are a) money and b) the appeal of taking centre stage as the star of an emerging Arab league.
Ok, but the chance for both of those will likely still be on the table in years to come.
Salah won’t stop being an icon and he won’t cease to be an appealing get for the Pro League, which has not shied away from handing out enormous contracts to fading stars.
Reports have suggested that though publicly tight-lipped, Salah has had his head turned by the money on offer from Al Ittihad. But if Liverpool’s number 11 were to really push for a move now, he would be taking himself out of contention for another Champions League, Premier League title, personal records at Liverpool and in the Premier League, and even any lingering hopes of the Ballon d’Or.
For the man who has reportedly badgered Ian Rush about his Liverpool goal record, it just seems so un-Salah.
© Proshots – Mohamed Salah
The Egypt captain would be an outlier in the Saudi Pro League, not because the reported wages or his status as an Arab superstar, but because he would be the first truly elite player in his prime to go there.
Saudi Arabia has pulled out all the stops to bring huge names to the league this year, but there are none you could honestly argue were taken from Europe at their peak.
United were delighted to find a solution to their Ronaldo dilemma, while N’Golo Kante’s injuries saw him feature in just seven Premier League games in his final year at Chelsea.
Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho and Henderson, too, were all beginning to look various levels of creaky at Liverpool, while Sadio Mane endured a disaster year at Bayern Munich before being persuaded to make the switch. Riyad Mahrez, even, was reduced to a bit-part role as City won the treble.
Perhaps an argument can be made for the great Karim Benzema, who is after all the current Ballon d’Or holder and scored 31 in all competitions for Real Madrid last season. But even he, at 35, is clearly not a man with his best years ahead of him.
Of the under 30s who have joined the Pro League – Jota, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – none could honestly be described as world class.
Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe – touted as Benzema’s long-term successor at Real Madrid – didn’t even entertain the idea of joining Al Hilal this summer. Speculation over a move for Alisson Becker was also quickly batted away.
Salah’s arrival would change things emphatically, helping the Saudi Pro League to lurch forwards on the roadmap from a supercharged Turkish Super Lig to a globally respected major player.
But it would also change perceptions of Salah too. Just by being linked with the move, the narrative has already changed. He’s gone from being Liverpool’s main man to a declining asset that the Reds could, and maybe should, cash in on.
Reports claim Liverpool won’t entertain the possibility of an eleventh-hour bid, anyway, whatever the offer.
You can argue over the sense of that from the club’s perspective, but for Salah there really isn’t a debate. The time may yet come for him to take on the mantle as the Beckham-esque poster boy for the Saudi project – if he really wants that and everything it entails – but it shouldn’t be now.
The saga is unlikely to be over even when the Saudi transfer window finally closes on 8 September, but, whatever happens, you can expect Salah to spend the rest of the season proving he’s far from past his best.