Mohamed Salah is Liverpool’s only candidate on this year’s Ballon d’Or shortlist. Amid the transfer talk, the award should give the Egyptian food for thought.
Salah has been unlucky, his period of greatness at Liverpool has coincided with the last vestiges of the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo era, and that’s part of why he has never claimed the game’s ultimate individual prize.
Football is a team sport, and Mohamed Salah is a team player. But there can be no doubt that the Ballon d’Or matters to the Liverpool icon.
Salah admitted to being ‘shocked’ when he finished seventh in the 2021 Ballon d’Or rankings (L’Equipe). He would improve to fifth in 2022, but incredibly that is the best position he has ever attained.
Nominated once again this year, he is in an elite group of just four players who have made the shortlist for each of the last five awards. If not for the cancellation of the 2020 edition due to the pandemic, he would undoubtedly have featured prominently then too.
For someone at the sharpest end of the professional game for so long, it seems strange that Salah has rarely even challenged the top five. Liverpool’s talisman for years, he has nonetheless finished below a team-mate in half of his appearances on the Ballon d’Or shortlist.
There’s no other Liverpool representative to challenge him this time around, but it’s hard to see Salah improving on his best finish. Lionel Messi and Erling Haaland are the overwhelming favorites for the top two spots, and while it’s a bit of a free-for-all beyond that, Manchester City (and to a lesser extent Argentina) would be expected to dominate.
But is that it? Will Salah have to give up his quest for the Ballon d’Or? He certainly remains among the world’s best players, and his run of goal involvements in 10 consecutive Premier League games points to his enduring ability to make a difference at the top level.
Indeed, Messi claiming the award would be a real signal that Salah’s time is not up just yet. At 36, the Argentine is firmly in his autumn years — but if the Liverpool man can just marry together some success on the international stage with a strong club season, he could yet have his moment in the sun.
A transfer to Saudi Arabia would surely end all that. Yes, Messi could technically become a Ballon d’Or winner while playing for Inter Miami, but the award is based on a season rather than a calendar year these days — as well as the World Cup, he is being recognized for his final PSG campaign, where he managed 16 goals and 16 assists in 32 Ligue 1 outings on the way to the title.
Quite simply, Salah will not win the adulation of his peers even if he plunders 60 goals in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the dream scenario for him would be to win it this season, finally claiming the Ballon d’Or at Anfield with the help of success in the Africa Cup of Nations next January, but Liverpool’s absence from the Champions League will not help his case in that regard.
Looking ahead to 2024/25, if Salah wants another shot at the Ballon d’Or, Liverpool can make a convincing case that he needs to remain in Europe. Assuming Jürgen Klopp’s side get back into the Champions League, that’s something of a transfer trump card.
Of course, Salah could still decide that the offer on the table is too good to turn down. He could even be justifiably sick of waiting for recognition, with the Ballon d’Or having treated him harshly thus far. But this is no trivial matter to the forward, and Liverpool know that.
The other complication is whether Liverpool are actually all that committed to extending Salah’s stay. There is a school of thought that a transfer next summer suits all parties, with FSG landing an unlikely payday to help rebuild, having enjoyed seven of the Egyptian’s peak years.
But Salah’s continued presence on Ballon d’Or shortlists should be a reminder to Liverpool too. While a transfer might add up in theory, the club should never be keen to show the door to one of the world’s best players.
As such, Liverpool’s pitch to Salah should be clear. Extend your stay at Anfield and write your name into football history: there’s a Ballon d’Or with your name on it.