By Gareth Roberts
It happened down at Anfield, not so long ago. Then, we had a real talent on our hands: Luis Suarez. After a settling-in period when he was far too fond of whacking the woodwork, the Uruguayan found an unbelievable vein of form, hitting the 30-goal mark in two of his three full seasons at the club.
Despite the baggage and the bad times, it was a pleasure to watch him play. As has become so clear without fans in the ground and everything that surrounds a match - the drinks, the laughs, the friends, the songs - much of football is actually quite drab and dull, lit up by moments of brilliance.
It’s for this reason that we love the real talents of the game like we do. Norwich City at home in December 2013 will live with me forever. Suarez’s four goals were phenomenal that night; a collection that will be hard to match. He stunned himself. Look at his reactions. It’s like he’s unwrapped a dream present. He can barely believe it. Neither could we.
Suarez, though, won just one League Cup during his time at Anfield. He hung around for precisely 133 games. He tried to engineer a move away. He bit an opponent. He had the incident with Patrice Evra, promised to shake his hand and then didn’t. All that, and he was still called ‘a legend’ by some. The definition of Liverpool legend had fallen a long way.
Fast forward to 2020. Liverpool have a player in the ranks who has scored more goals for Liverpool than Luis Suarez – 103 versus 82 – created more goals – 39 to 29 – and has won the Premier League, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and the Super Cup.
In the list of Liverpool’s all-time top goalscorers, this man is 16th, just five short of John Barnes’ haul of 108 in 15th. He has scored more goals for The Reds than players including Kevin Keegan, John Toshack and Fernando Torres.
This week, he equalled Steven Gerrard’s club record 21 goals in the Champions League, while his 80 Premier League goals in 115 games for Liverpool since joining the Reds in 2017 is at least nine more than any other player in the division in that time.
He hasn’t finished yet, but Mo Salah is already a Liverpool legend. And there’s no doubt about that. No argument. No debate.
It’s why the smears that came his way this week following a penalty awarded for a foul by Arthur Masuaku didn’t sit right.
Don’t worry, this isn’t another debate about that incident. But to again compare Suarez with Salah, for Suarez the dark arts were part of his game; central to it. He loved the needle. He loved being on the edge. It was a big part of him. And while we raged at Jon Champion openly labelling him “a cheat” or The Independent accusing him of coming on with “diabolical intent” against Mansfield in the FA Cup, most Reds would admit there was a dark edge to his approach.
Salah though? This isn’t a blinkered blog aiming to pitch him as perfect, like many other players, he makes the most of contact at times to draw attention to fouls.
But is it a stand-out part of the man’s make up? Not all all. Which is why accusations of “insulting Nobby Stiles and the game he loved” in The Times were seen as bizarre.
In The Daily Mail, they went further, with Ian Ladyman not only detailing his thoughts on the penalty but adding: “Salah has form. He does dive. Anyone who can't see that isn't looking properly and he has other flaws, too. He can be horribly greedy, for example.”
Horribly? The only barrel scrapings offered to back this theory were the quickly forgotten storm-in-a-teacup spat at Burnley between Salah and Sadio Mane.
He concluded by talking of “the devil in Salah” and warning referees to be “wiser to his propensity to fall to ground”.
Again, this a player that has produced consistent genius for Liverpool. Signed for £34million, rated at £100million plus. A man with 44 goals in one season, the second-highest total of any player in the club's history. He followed that with campaigns clocking up 27 and 23 goals. And he has nine this season already.
Why is there not more legend talk inside and outside the Liverpool bubble for the two-time Golden Boot winner? Why has his consistent form this season not been the subject of more coverage instead of the over-analysis of one penalty incident?Embed from Getty Images
Salah has had the most shots in the Premier League this season. He’s joint top of shots on target too.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has attracted much attention, deservedly so, for his early-season form. But he’s only scored one more than Mo in the Premier League this campaign.
As ever during this pandemic, it’s a shame we aren’t there to show our appreciation. To sing Salah’s song. To shout his name. But in the meantime, let’s recognise his genius. Let’s talk about him in the terms he deserves – as a Liverpool legend.
At 12 years old Salah was enduring eight and nine-hour round trips on small buses to get to training and back in Egypt.
At 28 years old he is one the best players to have turned out for Liverpool in the Premier League.
On Sunday, Salah returns to the scene of an iconic moment – arms spread wide, God-like, taking in the chaos before him as the away end exploded with arms and legs after his goal in the Champions League quarter-final.
What a night. What a story. What a player. Let the legend continue.
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