Salah's coming of age

It might only be early December in a World Cup year, but Mohamed Salah has already shown all signs of hitting top gear and it is perfectly timed.

The effervescent winger, striker and deep-lying forward is going from strength to strength after a stunning start to his Liverpool adventure, showcasing his true capabilities to make up for a disappointing spell at Chelsea.

Egypt’s Salah, fondly called Mo by Liverpool supporters, won the BBC African Player of the Year award on Monday and is favourite to become only the second Egyptian to secure CAF’s prestigious prize for the best player in the continent.

The summer Liverpool record signing from Roma already, at €42 million, looks the best value for money signing in the Premier League this season.

Statistics may not tell the whole story but for a winger to top the elite competition’s list of scorers with 13 goals after 16 matches, there is something in it.

At 25, Salah is at his devastating best as reports keep linking him with moves to the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Even if the reports are unfounded, such swirling rumours mean Salah has already left his mark.

“Salah is now in the pinnacle of his career, he peaked,” says former Egypt striker Mido.

“His challenge now is to remain in that level for years to come, maybe six or seven years. He fully deserved the BBC award,” Mido added in an interview with ONSport television channel.

Salah has many years ahead of him to keep the momentum going and his rapid progress to an all-round player suggests he is fully aware that he will need more than his dazzling pace to continue to perform at the highest level.

During his unfruitful spell at Chelsea from 2014 to 2016, Salah had little time to prove his worth, given the fierce competition in a star-studded squad featuring the likes of Willian, Eden Hazard and Oscar.

When then Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho gave him some playing time, Salah seemed more focused on not giving away possession than making inroads into the opposition area, playing it safe with simple and short passes.

The creative aspect of his game was thus not full-blown and his diminutive physique made it hard for him to win individual duels.

Liverpool’s Salah is totally different, however. He now takes the game to his opponents, twisting and turning past challengers and sending trademark curling shots into the back of the net.

He fights for every ball and muscles his way past his confronters. This was evident during his sublime goal in Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Everton in Sunday’s Merseyside derby when Cuco Martina fell following an unsuccessful attempt to upend Salah.

“He was a kid when he came to Chelsea, and we have heard a few times that’s quite difficult, and in that time they were really successful. It was quite difficult to come through,” Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp said last month.

“A little bit less muscle, a little bit less physical, and you fly through the Premier League – not like he’s flying now – but one body check, you understand. With his body shape that’s now different.

“He’s a man now, he was a kid at Chelsea, now he’s a man. That’s good.”

Salah reminded Chelsea of what they are missing when he found the net in Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with the Blues at Anfield last month.

With 19 goals in 24 appearances in all competitions so far this season, the former Basel man has already scored the same number of goals that he managed with AS Roma in the whole of last season.

His confidence is sky-high and he shows no signs of slowing down.

“I would like to thank my Liverpool team-mates and I also had a good season with Roma so I have to thank my team-mates there and my team-mates in the national team,” Salah, whose five goals and two assists were key in lifting Egypt to their first World Cup finals since 1990, told the BBC after being voted the African Player of the Year.

“Since I came here, I wanted to work hard and show everyone my football. I wanted to come back to the Premier League since I left, so I am very happy.”

His former teammate Didier Drogba has also been fulsome in his praise for Salah, noting his growth as a leader since the two were at Chelsea in 2014.

"He's becoming a boss and a leader we've seen it in the national team and seen it at Liverpool," Drogba told BBC Sport.

"I can tell by his celebrations that he knows what he's doing now, he's not going crazy but just sticking his tongue out to say 'yeah it's me'."

The Ivorian believes these qualities will be key for Egypt at next year's World Cup in Russia.

"He can bring a lot of his leadership and his experience, that he is learning at Liverpool and with the national team [to the team in Russia]," he continued.

"You know for him playing in a lot of big competitions will help him to be among the best players in Europe and during the World Cup

"Mo Salah on his own cannot win the World Cup but if all his teammates are at the level the continent expects them to be, then Mo Salah can be a fantastic player and be one of the stars in this competition."

"He's unpredictable he can dribble past you easily and he has has got stronger and he can score goals," Drogba added.

"When you have the confidence everything can happen and you can see now that he is scoring goals.

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