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Salah’s redemption: Liverpool superstar’s chance to banish horrors of Madrid & Ramos

14:40 BST 01/06/2019
Mohamed Salah Liverpool GFX
From devastation to delirium? A year after being forced off injured in the Champions League final, the Egyptian star has another shot at glory

Who would have thought that one of the defining images of last season’s Champions League final would come from a man best known for sprinkling salt on steaks?

You might have heard of Nusret Gokce. You may have seen the bizarre videos which have made him an internet sensation. 

And you wouldn’t be alone if you wondered quite how the man they call ‘Salt Bae’ has achieved the profile he has. Man cooks meat, man seasons meat, man becomes star. 

World scratches head.

A year ago, though, Gokce was in his element. There he was in Kiev, posing for pictures with Gareth Bale, with Cristiano Ronaldo and with Sergio Ramos. With the European Cup. Sunglasses, smiles and salt sprinkles.

And there he was, doing it for the ‘gram. Mugging it to the camera alongside a devastated Mohamed Salah. 

‘World caved in, mate? Here, any chance of a quick photo?’

Salah’s tears had barely dried. His left arm was in a sling, the pain – both physical and emotional – was etched across his face. He looked bewildered, broken.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

This was supposed to be Salah’s stage, where his status as one of the world’s best would be confirmed. His first season at Liverpool was to be capped in the grand manner.

Instead, his big night lasted just half an hour, his dreams crushed by Ramos and his rough-housing. No glory, just a busted shoulder, an unwanted selfie and a suitcase full of regrets.

Twelve months on, his chance for redemption has arrived. There will be nobody more motivated this weekend, as Liverpool look to collect their sixth European Cup with victory over Tottenham in Madrid.

“I know he can’t wait to get out there again,” says Jordan Henderson. “Of course, it will be a big motivation for him to go out and show what he can do in a Champions League final and, touch wood, he can do it in the whole game.”

Salah’s first campaign on Merseyside was a remarkable one. It brought 44 goals, many of them memorable, and a bucketload of individual awards. It turned him from promising talent to established star. It gave him a global profile.

Events in Kiev, though, cast a long shadow. Salah recovered, ahead of schedule, to feature for Egypt at the World Cup, three weeks after his tangle with Ramos, but it would be months before he was operating at full capacity again.

In December, Klopp would reveal the extent of his struggles.

“If you work in an office and your shoulder’s not 100 per cent – if it’s not your writing hand it should be OK,” he said. “But if you’re a professional football player in this moment, it just keeps 10 or 15 per cent away.”

Salah himself would open up on his pain, post-Kiev, in an interview with Bleacher Report recently. 

"That time, mentally, was very, very bad,” he said. “When I got substituted, I went into the dressing room and was just crying because I felt like the Champions League was over and the World Cup was over. It was very tough for me in that moment.”

Salah admits that increased expectations, a consequence of his 2017-18 exploits, had provided a new challenge this time around. He played a number of games in a new role, operating as Liverpool’s No.9 in a 4-2-3-1 system before Christmas, but questions over his form persisted. 

“Basically,” he said, “you score 40-something last season, now they want you to score 60, next season they want you to score 90!

"It doesn't work like that. If I score 30 goals and my team is third or fourth, are you going to be happy? No."

It is testament to his resilience, and the belief he has in his own ability, that he has been able to overcome such issues.

Ruthless, dedicated and single-minded, the 26-year-old’s high standards, and his desire for constant self-improvement, have been in evidence from the day he walked through the door at Anfield.

In 103 Liverpool games, he has 70 goals. He has two Premier League Golden Boots, a PFA Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year award. He’s been the African Footballer of the Year for the past two years, and last November came in third in the Goal 50. This week, his stunning strike against Chelsea back in April was named Liverpool’s goal of the season.

Impressive, but nothing in comparison to the glory which could await him in Madrid this weekend.

A year on, Salah is ready to right the wrongs of Kiev.

Spurs, you’ve been warned.