The Egyptian was criticised for not passing the ball enough after Liverpool’s win at Burnley but concerns over his greediness are misplaced
The pass was on. Everyone could see it.
The man on the ball surely could, even as he raced forward at full pelt, seats clattering in the away end as anticipation built.
Play it! Play him in! Play it!
Mohamed Salah didn’t play it. He didn’t look left. He didn’t slide the ball into the path of Roberto Firmino, as he surely had to. He ignored his team-mate’s lung-busting run and went solo.
He scored. His 50th Premier League goal. He’d waited eight games to score it; an eternity. Liverpool beat Southampton because of Salah’s goal.
Because of Salah’s selfishness.
Salah’s selfishness was on the agenda after Liverpool’s last game, too. Maybe it says something about the Reds’ progress under Jurgen Klopp that a 3-0 win at Burnley could be turned into a debate about team harmony and the relationship between two of its best players. What else is there left to say about this team?
Let’s get this straight for starters: there is no conflict between Salah and Sadio Mane. They share a close relationship, on and off the pitch, and the issue which led Mane to snap after being substituted at Turf Moor was forgotten by the time the pair had returned to the dressing room.
Mane, understandably, had been irked at not receiving what looked like a simple pass from Salah.
With the game at 3-0, and with both Mane and Firmino already on the scoresheet, the Egyptian again looked to go solo, only to be denied by a covering Burnley defender. A few moments later, having been replaced by Divock Origi, Mane made his feelings perfectly clear. He wasn’t happy.
“I quite like that,” said Jordan Henderson, his captain. Henderson himself had received a volley from Mane, but laughed when it was suggested that he and Salah may have a problem.
“That’s just us pushing each other all the time,” he told reporters. “I think we need that.”
Henderson’s right. Liverpool have set unbelievably high standards over the past couple of years. The best is demanded of each and every player, game after game. And those who fall short will be told, whoever they are. Salah is not immune from criticism, just as Mane is not, Firmino is not and Virgil van Dijk is not.
The fact of the matter, though, is that whatever Liverpool are doing, it’s working. They are top of the Premier League, the only team in England’s top six divisions with a 100 per cent record. They’re the European champions, the UEFA Super Cup winners, statistically the best runners-up this country has ever seen.
To achieve all that, they have needed Salah and they have needed Mane. And they have needed Salah’s unquenchable thirst for goals.
It is that desire, that single-mindedness, that remarkable self-belief, which makes him one of the world’s best. He doesn’t settle; he never thinks he’s done enough. He always wants more. To him, goals are the game.
At times, that can cloud his judgement as it did at Turf Moor. He will know he could and should have played Mane in; don’t worry about that.
But you don’t get a record like Salah’s – 74 goals in 110 games for Liverpool, 41 in 67 for Egypt – if you don’t back yourself, if you don’t take a few risks.
Southampton was a risk. That stunning strike against Chelsea last season, hammered in from 25 yards, was a risk. Remember those solo stunners against Everton, Roma, Napoli and Arsenal, or the 45-yarder against Manchester City? He wasn’t looking for team-mates then. And nobody was complaining.
“You don’t score that many goals without being what people say is ‘selfish’,” says former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler. “But what the hell do people want?
“Do they want him to be a goalscorer or do they want him to be someone who’s always looking to pass? You can’t really have both.”
Salah, incidentally, is not only a goalscorer. He’s provided 20 Premier League assists since arriving in 2017, more than Mane, more than Firmino. More, in fact, than any other player in the squad. He’s created more chances for team-mates than any other player, and completes more passes in the final third too.
Not that selfish, then.
“You can’t be a top-class goalscorer without that total belief that you will score,” says Fowler, and he should know. Only five men have scored more for Liverpool than he did.
Salah currently sits 28th on that list, but that will soon change. Soon, he will go past Steve Heighway and Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez. John Toshack, Kevin Keegan and the great Albert Stubbins are in his sights too. He needs 26 more goals to reach 100 in a red shirt. In all likelihood, he’ll get them this season.
He wants another Premier League Golden Boot, he wants to break more records, score more goals and win more trophies.
And if that means he has to occasionally annoy a team-mate, or read hot takes on Twitter about his greediness, then so be it.
For Liverpool fans, it’s a price worth paying. Because more often than not, a selfish Salah equals a scoring Salah.