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Why Mohamed Salah deserves to win the Ballon d’Or

SL 1

London :To begin with, a digression: I am genuinely exasperated by how the British have rather conveniently turned Mohamed Salah into ‘Mo’ Salah.

It is a dreadful sobriquet that needs urgent correction, and I am sure no one calls him that in his homeland.


Salah, after all, is Egyptian, unlike Mohamed Farah, the long-distance runner who is certifiably British despite having been born in Somalia. In Farah’s case, the lenient use of ‘Mo’ is permissible.

Salah himself, I am presuming, doesn’t get too flustered by what people call him.

In fact, I might stop complaining too if he keeps staggering us with the kind of hypnotic movement that has become his hallmark.

The silky touch, the swerving runs, the parabola pass perfection, the goals — Salah on a football pitch these days is a sporting experience so celestial you feel inebriated just witnessing it.

It is football of the gods: Pure, eye-popping and incomprehensible.

I must admit I haven’t seen all of Salah’s coruscating acts this season. There have been just way too many.

But so often in sport, you are struck by an epiphany too hard to ignore, a moment when your entire mind conspires to convince you of something you thought was never possible.

Salah better than Lionel Messi? Hmm.

For long, I had persuaded myself that Zinedine Zidane was the finest footballer I had ever seen, a colossus of an all-round player, blessed with grace and skill unfathomable to the average human brain.

Then came March 2015, and Messi and his preternatural capacities shattered that notion. He nutmegged pretty much everyone in the opposition — Manchester City, the unlucky ones that evening in the Champions League — as his former manager, Pep Guardiola, sat in the stands wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

Salah’s was a similar watershed performance against Roma in the Champions League. Talk of his being the best player in the world was swirling around Europe much before he harried, twisted and tormented an embarrassingly feckless Roma defence in the semi-finals.

Never mind the quality of the opposition; this was a virtuoso showing from a player operating by a completely different set of mental and physical rules.

It was a stupefying confirmation of his status in world football.

Salah better than Messi? Salah better than everyone else? Yes and yes, for now.

Ahead of the new season, if someone were to ask you to name a player who was most likely to break the Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly over the Ballon d’Or, you would have probably come up with Neymar, or Eden Hazard, or Isco. Even Kylian Mbappé.

Salah, at best, would have been touted to make the Premier League team of the year. You would have been happy with 15 goals and 10 assists. Even the Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, would have taken that.

Not Salah himself, though. He already has 45 goals for club and country, and 13 assists to go with that.

This is a player who can do anything.

He can choose to contest the Egyptian presidential election and record a landslide win.

He can walk along the Pyramids and turn the sand into grass.

He can have 40-feet-tall murals of himself painted in Cairo overnight.

Most importantly, though, he can lead Liverpool to the Champions League title. And yes, he can and should win the Ballon d’Or.

No player in recent memory has come to English shores and dominated affairs the way
Salah has, no one has made the instant dazzling impact that he now makes every week. Not Ronaldo. Not anyone else.