World football has been searching, for so long, for someone to challenge the dominance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi; and now, surely, after Mo Salah’s stunning performance in a Champions League semi-final the search is over.
Between them Ronaldo and Messi, the giants of the game, have won the last 10 Ballon D’Or — five each — and you have to go back all the way to Kaka’s victory in 2007 to find a different name on the famous trophy.
Ronaldo is now 33, Messi is 31 in June, but just like Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in the tennis arena nobody has emerged from the shadows to challenge their position even with the hands of time ticking on their careers. That is, until now.
Football reporting is full of eulogies, hyperbole, hype, and bluster but it is difficult not to use at least one of those tactics to describe what Salah has done this season and, in particular, what he did at Anfield against Roma.
Two goals, two assists on the biggest stage and a sumptuous performance which laid down a marker not just for Liverpool for himself individually too; here is a player worthy of challenging not just for PFA Player of the Year, which he has already won, but for world player of the year too.
Just looking at the stats is enough to confirm Salah’s brilliance. He has now scored 43 goals for LIverpool this season — that’s one more than Ronaldo for Real Madrid and three more than Messi for Barca — and, despite Liverpool’s defence wobbling badly after he had left the pitch, the winger surely has a Champions League final to come after a 5-2 victory over Roma at Anfield.
The prospect of a match-up against Ronaldo in Kiev is a mouth-watering one and maybe, just maybe, the Ballon D’Or is not a foregone conclusion with Ronaldo’s Real struggling in La Liga and Messi’s Barcelona out of the Champions League early.
For Liverpool fans, of course, Salah is already on that pedestal; he was described as a ‘God’ and a ‘King’ by ecstatic fans on social media as their counterparts inside the stadium rose as a man to give him a standing ovation when he was substituted after 74 minutes.
By that time Salah had torn Roma apart, with the more than capable assistance of his forward partners Roberto Firmino and Saido Mane.
His first goal was perhaps the moment of the match after Roma had started the night strongly; a sublime curling, left-foot finish which no goalkeeper in the world could have saved.
But there was more to come, a second cleverly-finished goal after a one-two with Firmino before half time and then two perfect assists after the break as Liverpool ran away with it.
Of course, we should have known the night was always going to be about the Egyptian, playing against his former club from where Liverpool signed him last summer.
He had dominated headlines for the previous week — one in which he was named PFA Player of the Year, ahead of Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne.
That was a decision which split opinion in some places, but certainly not in Liverpool where he has become a Kop idol in a remarkably short period of time.
His 43 goals in nine months is a record-breaking return and has more than compensated for the departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona.
In fact, there are plenty of people willing to argue the front three of Salah, Firmino, and Mane is potentially more effective and more dangerous than the Fab Four, which also included former hero Coutinho, and which had been hailed as Liverpool’s future until the call of the Camp Nou became too loud for the Brazilian to turn down.
All three made a contribution in this outstanding performance which should not be soured by two late goals conceded through a lack of concentration at 5-0 up; but there’s no doubt who was at the heart of it.
It was the man who has now scored 11 Champions League goals this season to put Liverpool within touching distance of the final. That, of course, is the most important silverware on offer to Salah and to everyone at Anfield.
But individual honours may also be close — and the opportunity to break the Messi-Ronaldo grip on global glory is not just a pipe dream.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved