With Liverpool said to be on the verge of signing Roma forward Mohamed Salah, Adam Summerton hails his improvement during two-and-a-half seasons in Serie A
When Roma acquired the services of renowned recruiter Monchi, attention inevitably turned to which gems he would identify to improve the Giallorossi – what didn’t get mentioned quite so much was the difficulties he’d have in keeping and/or replacing last season’s key players. Mohamed Salah’s imminent departure to Liverpool, while not unexpected, leaves a big hole that will be hard to fill – a player who directly contributed to 26 goals in 31 Serie A appearances last season (15 goals, 11 assists).
Still lazily labelled a ‘Chelsea reject’ by those who’ve probably not bothered to watch him a great deal in recent years – the truth is that Liverpool are getting a much more mature and well-rounded footballer than the one who endured a difficult first-spell in English football – not that he was given much of a chance at Stamford Bridge. It would have been hard enough as a young player to make the considerable step up from the Swiss Super League to the Premier League, but almost impossible when given just six league starts in twelve months.
The best thing Chelsea did for Salah was to let him go out on-loan to Serie A. It was in the beautiful surroundings of Florence that the Egyptian international began to repair damaged confidence, scoring six goals and providing three assists in the second half of the 2014/15 league season. His brief spell at the Artemio Franchi is perhaps best remembered for a fantastic performance away against Juventus in the Coppa Italia, where he scored both goals in a 1-2 win for La Viola – at the time it was Juve’s first home defeat in just under two years, for Salah it was a sign of things to come.
Having worked under Vincenzo Montella at Fiorentina, Salah then joined Roma in the summer of 2015, scoring 14 goals and providing 6 assists in his first Serie A season at the Olimpico, firstly coached by Rudi Garcia and then his eventual replacement Luciano Spalletti. The latter’s tactical acumen is often referenced by his many advocates and this is a key area in which playing in Italy has helped mould the Salah of today.
Playing under an innovative coach whose approach demands tactical flexibility, invention and experimentation – Salah has clearly learnt and improved. He still has the tremendous pace, directness and trickery that first caught people’s attention at Basel, but the Egyptian international is now smarter, cleverer and more aware of others on the pitch. Probably the best example I can give of this is the excellent relationship he developed with Edin Dzeko last season. The campaign prior had been a very difficult one for the former Manchester City striker, and I often thought part of his problem was actually a lack of understanding with Salah. It’s a credit to both of them and indeed Luciano Spalletti that what had previously been a weakness developed in to a key strength for the Giallorossi – Dzeko ended the season as Serie A’s top-scorer with a very impressive 29 goals, seven of them created by Salah, the league’s most effective partnership in that respect.
Striking up new understandings at Anfield is now the challenge for a player who leaves Italy in far better shape than when he arrived. Salah deserves great credit not just for bouncing back from his Chelsea experience, but also for returning to the scene of his career’s biggest disappointment in England. Those who’ve watched him develop over the last two years won’t be surprised by that strength of character though. Indeed it will be more useful than ever to him in the coming weeks and months as he handles the considerable pressure and expectation that comes with being Liverpool Football Club’s record signing. I’m sure Monchi will enjoy spending the cash.