Why Liverpool made Mohamed Salah their highest paid player in history at age 30

In late 2019, towards the end of another brutally hot day, clambering across Cairo’s concrete sprawl in search of new information about Egypt’s most famous footballer, one of his former teammates found it easy to explain why Mohamed Salah had succeeded. to do what only a select few from his country have been able to achieve.

Ali Fathi had shared five years of his teenage life with Salah when the pair were signed to El Mokawloon. In an apartment building east of Cairo, they spent their evenings gaming, where Salah, on FIFA, would always be Barcelona – the club he dreamed of.

It had always been Salah’s ambition to move to Europe. He didn’t seem particularly motivated by a future at Al Ahly or Zamalek, the two Cairo clubs where the best Egyptian footballers often end up. It cannot be overstated how unusual this was, as the passion for football is on a religious level in Egypt, where players are paid well enough to make it easier for them to stay home when offers come in from abroad.

Fathi, a left-back, whose career had brought him briefly to the Portuguese island of Madeira before returning to the wild womb of Cairo, was then injured and tried to rejoin the team at his newest club, El Entag El Harby.

He looked across the training ground, commenting on the size and shape of his current team-mates, comparing them to Salah, who was thousands of miles away trying to negotiate a British winter during a season in which he would finish as a Premier League champion.

Simply put, it was Salah’s independence that made him different. He could only think and this meant he was taking care of himself. After training every day, he went unsupervised to the exercise room and lifted weights for at least half an hour. He later enrolled in a private gymnasium where he told an instructor that he needed to improve his stamina and acceleration, although he was already dazzled as an extremely fast football player in his early professional career.

Fathi suggested that Egyptian football players’ diets were generally not particularly healthy because of their meat intake. However, Salah took conditioning incredibly seriously – “more seriously than any Egyptian footballer I’ve ever met”.

He was not accompanied by any of his coaches in this pursuit. He may have been a fan of Barcelona, ​​but from afar he had seen Cristiano Ronaldo with his Real Madrid shirt off after scoring a goal and realized how the game was headed. “Mo realized he had to become a machine,” Fathi concluded.

Last month it was ten years since Salah left Egyptian club football. A new three-year contract with Liverpool puts him within three seasons of the Egyptian player who holds the records for the longest career in Europe.

But perhaps Salah’s path would have been different had he listened to that same player; Hany Ramzy, a defender who represented their country at the 1990 World Cup, before becoming a scout in Germany.

Ramzy spent 11 of his 16 years in Europe with Werder Bremen and Kaiserslautern. This meant he had a good understanding of the Bundesliga, where Salah could have gone first when he left Egypt, had it not been for Mohamed Amer, his manager at El Mokawloon, advising him to wait.

Instead, he moved from North Africa to Europe via Switzerland, where his 18-month performances at Basel led to an offer from Liverpool. If he had agreed to move to Anfield in 2014 instead of Chelsea, you also wonder where he could be on the club’s all-time top scorers list right now.


Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 games since coming from Roma for £36million in 2017 (Image: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Perhaps it was just as well that his time at the club coincided entirely with Jurgen Klopp, a manager who suggested on Friday that the “player’s best years are yet to come” after Liverpool made Salah the highest paid player in the club’s history. . at age 30.

This deal is not without risk.

Liverpool are rumored to be treading the same ground as Arsenal two years ago, when they renewed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract at the age of 31 before his influence quickly faded.

However, these are different footballers with different mindsets representing different clubs in different health conditions, led by different managers at different stages of their relationship with the players involved.

After all, Aubameyang seems to have found himself again since moving to Barcelona in January. For Salah, the risk may have more to do with his own game: how he, Klopp and his Liverpool team-mates are adjusting to age. Each party will have to ensure that its output during this process justifies the investment.

Liverpool have made an exception for Salah in this deal, but that doesn’t mean the decision is unprecedented.

While Fenway Sports Group looks after all of its athletic interests, including baseball’s Boston Red Sox, Fenway Sports Group has rarely handed out major contracts to athletes who reach a stage in their careers that would normally be past the physical peak of many.

However, it is clear that Liverpool do not believe this is the case with Salah – just as they did not with James Milner, who hired the club as their highest-paid player when he soon turned 30 on the same date seven years ago.

Milner, of course, continues fine all this time later and after the players return Monday morning for season prep, it would be a surprise if he and Salah aren’t at the front of the pack when they get across the track in the otherwise dreaded kilometer interval sprints in the days that follow.

However, when comparing the 2015 Milner and the 2022 Salah, there is a difference of around £200,000 per week.

In the end, Salah’s stay at Liverpool has always come down to money, however the club, the player or his representative Ramy Abbas try to frame it now that all sides are happy with the outcome.

When Kevin De Bruyne, a month before his 30th birthday, agreed in May last year to a two-year contract extension to keep him at Manchester City beyond his 34th birthday, Salah, under Abbas’ guidance, thought they should aim for something similar. . That’s about what they got – although there were concessions from both sides as part of his £350k a week is driven by performance and performance.

Despite concerns that this information could cause problems for team-mates and their representatives, who now know there is always leeway in future negotiations, Klopp is very confident that the humility and intelligence in the Anfield dressing room mean it won’t be a problem.

The other Liverpool players tend to see Salah as the main man of the squad and see how committed he is for the way he takes care of himself – as he always has – and so there is a recognition that he deserves what he gets.

There are no clear signs that Salah is slowing down, but there were also no clear signs that Sadio Mane was slowing down before being sold to Bayern Munich last month.

Sometimes the future can be about a player’s will.

While Salah always wanted to stay on the condition that the money was right, Mane had made it clear to Liverpool that he would not sign a new contract to replace the one that expires in the summer of 2023. Therefore, Luis Diaz was bought in January as his replacement.

Mane, the player and personality that he is, managed to redefine himself in a different position during the final months of his Liverpool career, a period when Salah struggled after his mid-season efforts in the Africa Cup of Nations, and the Egypt’s double disappointments losing the final of that tournament and, in March, failing to qualify for the World Cup. Liverpool understood the emotional impact of it all, but supported him. It is thought that a summer of rest will have done him the power of good.

It will be fascinating to see how Liverpool use Salah from here.

For five years he was the left-footed striker to the right of a front three, but there are indications that changes are on the way given the way Klopp successfully reshaped his midfield and attack towards the end of last season.

Maybe he needs more No 10 options in this evolution. Perhaps Salah is one of the players who can help him with that.

He has almost always been available for Liverpool. Physically, his body would certainly be able to handle the responsibilities of a more central role. He has become more selfless over the past 18 months and has helped those around him.

While he is a much more thoughtful footballer compared to the one who left Cairo for Switzerland, as well as the one who came from Roma to Liverpool, Klopp must think he is essentially the same machine.

(Top photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

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