It is common knowledge that those at the very top of any professional sport must combine talent with a heady mix of confidence and competitiveness. Even as they espouse the virtues of collective achievements and team trophies, this special category of athletes tend to be driven by the personal desire to not just be the best, and to also be recognized as such by their peers.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is no different, possessing an all-consuming tenacity and playing with an arrogance that has enthralled football supporters the world over. The Egyptian plies his trade in Europe’s toughest league and is the star one of the continent’s best teams, leading the Premier League in both goals and assists—the former by a wide margin.
But that desire to be acknowledged as the best is why—for a player arguably considered to be the game’s form attacker this season—coming in all the way down in 7th in the voting for the 2021 Ballon d’Or would be particularly difficult to swallow. The star forward has diplomatically refrained from commenting on his disappointing finish to this point, but recently vented his frustration in comments attributed to DMC:
“The results of the Ballon d’Or were shocking to me,” the Salah admitted. “I don’t have much to say about it, but there was nobody who expected me to finish seventh last year, but that is what happened.
“I don’t think there’s a conspiracy theory or anything, but there may be inaccurate choices and there are many countries who don’t know how to vote. I don’t know what they base their choices on, but I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy or anything.
“I have nothing to prove that there is something wrong. I really don’t know, but I was shocked at the result.”
Lionel Messi once again won football’s highest individual honor based on the heroics in his last year with Barcelona, but had a more difficult end to the year in his first campaign with PSG, registering a mortal 18 goal involvements to this point in the season across all competitions.
However, what seems to have irked Salah further is that he was also not named in FIFPro’s World XI for 2021, as voted by his footballing peers. Instead, Messi was joined by Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland and Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo to form the attacking line of an ungainly 3-3-4 formation.
“I’m not happy that I was left out of the World XI, but there’s nothing I can do,” Salah continued. “What satisfies me is that everyone shares my feelings, that I should be in the team.
“I don’t think there’s anything personal against me specifically, but that’s the reality that I’m dealing with.”
While all of the players named ahead of Salah technically had more prolific 2020-21 campaigns as measured by the crude metric of goal involvements, all but Messi spent much of last year playing in lesser leagues.
However, having cemented his position as arguably both the world’s most prominent African and Muslim athlete, combined with an all-conquering start to 2022, Salah should expect to be much happier with his placing in this year’s personal accolades.