Mohamed Salah has been generating highlight reels at such an alarming pace this season that it sometimes feels as though he has been part of Liverpool’s setup for much longer than he actually has. Can it really be that the player dubbed as the Egyptian King only arrived at Melwood last summer?
It wasn’t always written in the cards that Salah would end up pulling on a red shirt at Anfield, and things almost turned out very, very differently.
As everyone knows (and if you don’t, Brendan Rodgers will be happy to tell you), Salah was a serious transfer target of Liverpool’s way back in the 2013-14 season, when he was an eye-catching, if inconsistent, talent with FC Basel. When the bright lights of the Premier League came calling, however, the Egyptian winger opted for blue instead of red, signing with Chelsea for a fee of around £11 million. Here’s what he previously said about that decision:
“Liverpool had wanted me for a number of months. They had opened talks in October 2013. Negotiations took a long time, because Basel rejected more than one offer. They felt the transfer fee was not that high. I was waiting for Liverpool because I really like Liverpool. I was eager to join them.
But then I received a phone call from Mourinho and that changed everything. He explained the situation to me and told me that he needed me at Chelsea. That was one of the main reasons why I joined Chelsea. Mourinho told me that he thought I was a good player and that he wanted me to pick Chelsea.”
As everyone also knows, things did not exactly go as planned at Chelsea. Salah made just six Premier League starts for the manager who “needed him at Chelsea,” with a mere three appearances during the 2014-15 season.
On February 2, 2015, Salah was loaned out to Fiorentina until the end of the 2015-16 season, at which point he declined to spend another year in Florence and joined AS Roma on loan instead. With Roma, you could see glimpses of his game-changing ability emerging, and Salah did enough to be named the Serie A club’s player of the season, before joining them on a permanent deal in the summer of 2016.
Fast forward to May 2017, and with the season winding to a close, thoughts were now turning to the critical summer transfer window. There had been numerous rumblings of Jürgen Klopp flashing his Bundesliga smile and pursuing Julian Brandt, but that pursuit was now seemingly headed for a dead end. Salah’s name, which was more of a background noise in the transfer discussions, quickly moved to the forefront.
By the end of May, Liverpool supporters were in full-blown silly season mode, poring over all the usual social media tea leaves:
Tammy Abbas [Agent of Mohamed Salah] is boarding a flight to England. Also followed the club account. #lfc [@fathy55]: pic.twitter.com/KfyVGBxrFd— lfcstuff (@stuffIfc) May 30, 2017
It was clear at this point that Liverpool’s interest was serious, just as it was clear that Roma were not averse to selling, given the Serie A club’s urgent need to balance their books due to Financial Fair Play concerns. It would come down to price - an area where Liverpool were showing a new steely resolve. Would that new fiscal attitude scupper the Salah deal?
A £28 million bid was apparently made, and just as quickly rejected, with the Italian club holding out for a much higher sum - something in the region of £43 million - already sensing where the new market was heading. With the two clubs seemingly at an impasse over economic terms, we began to see rumors of Liverpool’s interest turning elsewhere, including towards Gelson Martins at Sporting Lisbon.
Was it just misdirection from Liverpool aimed at making Roma budge? Perhaps. And if was, Roma was savvy enough to take a similar tack. Reports emerged - admittedly far from concrete - of interest in Salah from other Premier League heavy hitters, including Arsenal and the bank vault over at the Etihad Stadium.
It was a game of transfer chicken (this needs its own logo, by the way) between Liverpool and Roma. Who would blink first? All signs pointed towards Roma. Unlike the usual “interest from other clubs”/ “interest in other players” stuff, Roma’s financial pressures were very real, and escalating in the face of equally real deadlines. The tipping point might have been a communication from the player himself expressing a desire to have the transfer completed.
The clubs inched closer towards a compromise, with higher ups at Roma still saying all the right things and talking tough - the phrase “Roma are not a supermarket” will live on for a bit, one suspects - while Liverpool discussed internally just how high they were willing to go. An improved bid was submitted. More silence. More behind-the-scenes wrangling.
While supporters waited nervously, the first signs emerged that there might have been a breakthrough: breathless reporting on the player reportedly getting on a flight to England.
And then, there was this seminal moment in Liverpool Twitter (tm) (cue Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra) - no, really, go find that music, play it in the background, then watch this again:
June 22, 2017
With Salah’s official arrival on June 22, 2017, and with Roberto Firmino clearly preferred by Klopp over a traditional centreforward, Liverpool’s first choice front line for the 2017-2018 season was now set in stone. It was a move that was intended to bring balance, spreading the scoring threat more evenly and taking some of the focus off Sadio Mané and Firmino. Did many supporters or even rivals expect Salah to be leading the Premier League scorers at this stage of the season? We leave you with this:
United fans do not fill up our timeline moaning about Salah to Liverpool. He flopped at Chelsea and he'll do it again. Weak mentality#MUFC— The United Stand (@UnitedStandMUFC) June 2, 2017