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AFCON, Champions League, Ballon d'Or? Why 2022 really could be Salah's year

12:00 AM MYT 02/01/2022
Mohamed Salah Liverpool 2021-22
The Liverpool star has already elevated himself to world level but now he wants the medals and individual awards to cement his legacy

OK, a deep breath and away we go.

In 2021, Mohamed Salah scored 37 goals for Liverpool. Only Ian Rush has ever managed more for the club in a calendar year, and even the Reds’ all-time leading marksman cannot match Salah’s record of 26 goals away from Anfield in a single year.

Salah now sits 10th on the Reds’ all-time top scorers list, and has a better goals-per-game ratio than any of the nine players above him, Rush included.

He is the fastest player ever to score 100 top-flight goals for Liverpool, and is now the club’s all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League, having surpassed Steven Gerrard’s tally in October.

That same month, he became the first Liverpool player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford since 1936, part of a run which saw him set a new club record of scoring in nine consecutive matches.

He eclipsed Didier Drogba as the Premier League’s highest-scoring African player, and between September and December he equalled Jamie Vardy’s record of scoring or assisting in 15 successive top-flight matches.

He scored 31 goals last season and he has 22 already this time around, including 15 in the league. Only Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Harry Kane have won three Premier League Golden Boot awards, but it would be a surprise if Salah has not added his name to that lost come May.

There’s a running joke among Liverpool’s players and staff, that whenever a statistic or record is mentioned, Salah will not only know about it, but be in with a chance of breaking it too. Nothing gets past him.

"Exceptional," says Jurgen Klopp. "We know that in the future people will speak about some players in this team, and 100 per cent they will speak about Mo Salah, because his numbers here are insane and incredible."

Klopp, like many others, was bemused when Salah placed only seventh on the recent Ballon d’Or list, and was stunned that the 29-year-old was not shortlisted for the 2021 FIFPro Men’s World XI.

He believes Salah has been the best player in the world this year, a point echoed by the likes of Sadio Mane, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fernando Torres, Arsene Wenger, Rio Ferdinand and Jamie Carragher, among others.

Salah has delivered for Liverpool for the past four years – and before that in Italy with Roma and Fiorentina – but there can be no doubt that he has gone up a level in the past 12 months.

He has elevated himself to the status of global star, a player capable not only of mind-blowing numbers, but also moments of sheer, breathtaking quality. Witness, as Exhibits A and B, those goal of the season contenders against Manchester City and Watford earlier this season.

Where can he go from here, one wonders? Liverpool fans will hope and pray for a new contract – it should be a priority for Fenway Sports Group, the club’s owners – but Salah is about far more than security and financial reward.

"In my mind, I am the best player in the world," he said recently. Legacy is his biggest motivation.

Trophies are what will secure that legacy, and in that regard 2022 could be Salah’s biggest year yet.

He’s already a champion, a Premier League and Champions League winner, but the next 12 months are stacked with opportunity.

From the Africa Cup of Nations in January to the World Cup in December, history beckons, along with the chance to ensure the individual awards he so craves will follow.

Liverpool fans, naturally, will rue his absence for AFCON, but that's a selfish view.

Ask Salah about his lowest moments in football and the defeat to Cameroon in the 2017 final in Gabon will undoubtedly crop up. It's a huge deal to these players, and so it should be

Egypt are the competition’s most successful side, and will start this tournament among the favourites, looking for a first win since 2010. Salah, of course, is key to their hopes.

It was Copa America glory, really, which secured Lionel Messi his seventh Ballon d’Or this year, and Salah knows that success on the international stage would elevate him still further. To that end, qualification for Qatar is a must as well. A World Cup without him doesn’t bear thinking about.

In terms of Liverpool, there is plenty to look forward to.

The Reds’ Premier League title hopes have taken a hit in the past fortnight, but they are still in there swinging, and by the time Salah returns from AFCON they could have a League Cup final to look forward to, as well as a Champions League last-16 tie against Inter on the horizon. Regardless of their last two results, Klopp’s side will fancy their chances of silverware come May.

"I want to win everything, to break every record," Salah has said.

He is desperate to play in every game he can, against the biggest and the best and under the biggest pressure. Every stage is his stage, every day is his day, even when the evidence suggests otherwise. 

It is that mindset, that mentality, which has allowed him to scale the heights he has. Even when his team struggles, as Liverpool did in the opening months of the year, Salah carries on believing, carry on scoring. 

He often thrills and he usually delivers, but he is rarely satisfied. And that bodes well, both for LiverpooI and for Egypt.

The year 2021 was a Salah spectacular, packed with magic moments, but 2022 could be even better. 

Now, this remarkable, relentless footballer wants more medals to go with the memories.