Mohamed Salah I AFP
Mohamed Salah could easily have given the kind of diplomatic answer trotted out by most soccer players.
He just couldn’t.
Was there a preference, Salah was asked minutes after Liverpool reached the Champions League final three weeks ago, over which team he faced in the title match in suburban Paris?
“Yes,” Salah said, stretching his neck and turning his head from side to side as if he was limbering up for another game. “I want to play Madrid.”
Salah clearly hasn’t forgotten what went down in the 2018 final against Real Madrid in Kyiv. That painful moment in the first half when he tussled with Sergio Ramos and landed heavily on the ground, dislocating his left shoulder. Some likened it to a wrestling-style maneuver by the wily Ramos, who appeared to pin Salah’s right arm and roll the forward down to the turf.
Salah left the field in tears and watched the remainder of the match on TV in the locker room as Liverpool, deprived of its most likely scorer, lost 3-1.
Four years later and Ramos is no longer at Madrid, with the Spain great having just reached the end of an injury-ravaged first season at Paris Saint-Germain.
That didn’t stop Salah from posting “we have a score to settle” on Twitter after Madrid joined Liverpool in Saturday’s final by producing that amazing second-leg comeback against Manchester City in the semifinals.
“I think it is revenge time,” Salah has said in another interview about facing Madrid.
The man is on a mission.
Maybe in more ways than one.
After all, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that this is the last final he plays for Liverpool, given he has yet to sign a new deal with the club. Negotiations seemingly are at a deadlock. As it stands, Salah has one year left on his contract and he is free to talk to other clubs in January.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has appeared sanguine about the whole thing, but he — like the club’s fans — must be getting slightly concerned about a potential parting of ways. Money is not the issue, according to Salah, who has said he is not asking for “crazy stuff” and simply wants to be appreciated for all he has done for the club.
Liverpool has moved to future-proof its attack by signing three forwards over the last two years — Diogo Jota in August 2020, Luis Diaz in January and one for the long term in Fabio Carvalho from Fulham this week.
Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are still around, too — Mane is playing as well as he ever has at Liverpool — but a departing Salah would represent a huge loss for the club, especially when big domestic rival Man City has strengthened its forward line with the signing of Erling Haaland.
Salah has just finished a Premier League season as the top scorer, either outright or tied, for the third time in his five years at Liverpool, sharing the Golden Boot award with Tottenham forward Son Heung-min with 23 goals. Salah had the most assists, too, with 13.
For the first half of this season, he was regarded by many as the most in-form player in world soccer having scored 10 goals in his first nine games, including a hat trick at Manchester United and probably the goal of the season with that slaloming solo run and finish against City.
Salah hasn’t been as rampant since returning from the African Cup of Nations in February, with Diaz perhaps taking away some of the limelight, but he remains Liverpool’s most likely match-winner — the man Klopp relies upon for goals more than anyone else.
“Insane season,” Klopp said of Salah, who has already been awarded the soccer writers’ player of the year in England and is favorite with British bookmakers to win the vote among his fellow professionals, too.
That is the caliber of player Madrid is facing on Saturday, and who the Spanish team might yet want to buy having just lost out on signing Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain. First of all, though, Salah — as indicated by his recent comments about the game — wants to avenge what transpired in 2018.