It’s a shame that the signing of Mohamed Salah this week seems fated to fail in arousing the anticipation it probably deserves; when the Egyptian takes to the field in a blue shirt for the first time, all that many will see is a person who isn’t Juan Mata. It isn’t the player’s fault that he’s arriving at a time where fan opinion of the club’s transfer policy is split between those incensed at recent events and those only begrudgingly willing to admit that what’s happening is for the best. I’d guess the greatest cause of consolation for the more disgruntled among our number would be that all player transactions so far this month, point not only to the ‘openness’ and ‘maturity’ of the club which Mourinho highlighted yesterday, responsible for allowing him to prioritise the happiness of his players in the circumstance of receiving the right offer; but also I think we’re clearly seeing a case of Chelsea having moved towards a situation where transfer decisions are the product of consensus across the board, and in full support of the manager’s model.
I should point out now, I don’t think the title of this article is a question we should be asking. I think the role in which Mata made his name at Chelsea no longer exists and from a tactical perspective, I don’t think he ever really could have had a role to play moving forward. And thought he might not be in Mata’s league, you can see in comparison that Salah is the perfect type and profile of player for this Chelsea team. Like his new teammates, Oscar, Hazard and Schurrle, he’s at that age/stage of development to have his game tailored and altered by Mourinho to fit this system perfectly. The way in which the Portuguese has improved Hazard’s game this season must have been a huge part of the appeal in signing for Chelsea; as must have been his record of improving players like Angel di Maria and Arjen Robben in the past. There’s no question, if you’re a talented young inverted winger and you want to reach the top of the game, Jose is the man to play for. And if the Egyptian can learn from his new coach the way Hazard has done, then we’re are going to have one well of a wing partnership next season – one that could even come close to rivalling the ‘Bale & Ronaldo’s and ‘Robben & Ribery’s of this world.
Also like his teammates, Salah is versatile and operable anywhere behind the striker. He’s incredibly fast and hardworking, and as proven in his four appearances against Chelsea in 2013, he’s the sort of player to step up in big games and score important goals. Certainly in the latter two of those matches between Basle and ourselves, the Egyptian was the best player on the pitch. And his winning goal in Switzerland was taken with almost inexplicable composure, given his age and the pressure of the situation.
A look back at the player’s career so far and its narrative seems to corroborate perfectly with what we witnessed in those games; we’re signing a natural winner. After being turned down at the last minute by Cairo-giants Zamalek, he moved to Basle in the summer of 2012 to replace Bayern Munich bound Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss was the most talented player his club had seen for a long time but Salah proved a more than apt replacement, starring as he led his side to the league title and the semi-finals of the Europa League, beating Gareth Bale’s Spurs side along the way. Factor in also the outstanding international record for a player of his age and position, of 17 goals in 27 appearances, all the facts seem to suggest that for £11m, we’ve got ourselves a bargain.
Snatched from Liverpool?
There are two side stories to this signing that I think are annoying and unnecessary. The first is this idea that, as in the summer with Willian, Chelsea have acted somehow unethically moving for a player publically identified as a target for a rival club. I think this is stupid and perhaps a case of what Marina Hyde highlighted in The Guardian this week as the reactionary ‘twatting about’ of skein middle-class wankers who fancy themselves defenders of the ‘quintessence’ of football.
Any Liverpool fan who thinks Chelsea’s signing of Salah reflects worse on our conscience than it does on their lack of decisiveness and ambition in the market is deluding themselves. To have lost what seemed to be a ‘key’ target to a domestic rival, you’d have thought would call for a critical self-review of the club’s transfer policy. A fortnight ago Liverpool were my pick for 4th place’, now I’m not so sure.
The other back story regards the player’s apparent refusal to shake hands with the players of Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv last year in a public expression of his opposition to the Zionist movement. There are three important points to make here. Firstly, the anti-Semitic quotes attributed to the player where he suggested that he would be playing the tie in Palestine and not Israel have been officially disputed by Basle. Secondly, I think we should be quick to avoid any sort of comparison between Salah’s behaviour and that of Nicolas Anelka, although it doesn’t excuse his behaviour, the situation in Egypt and culture in which Salah will have been raised makes his situation difficult to pass too harsh a judgement on – whereas Anelka is just an idiot and should be banned for the season. I think Lukaku was stupid also with his naïve defence of the Frenchman on Everton’s website.
Finally, it seems preposterous to assume that Roman Abramovich, chairman of the Federation of Jewish communities in Russia would’ve sanctioned this signing if thought there would be the slightest possibility of a problem. The same goes for Chairman Bruce Buck, who’s also Jewish. As Mourinho eloquently pointed out yesterday, given the club Chelsea are and the manager he is, and the ethnic diversity of the playing staff, he is in a perfect position to ‘help a young boy grow up and be stable’.
Finally, concerns are already being raised over the potential lack of game time the player will be afforded; with some suggesting this move could be a career stultifying one. Except in the case of injury, I don’t expect Salah to become a regular in the first XI until next season. And I think he’ll require at least the same period of time it took Willian to adapt to English football and reach the level he’s at now. Those who think he is just a vanity signing/brought in for squad depth; I whole heartedly disagree with however. I predict he will become one the seminal acquisitions of the second Mourinho era.
Welcome to Chelsea – Mohamed Salah!