Is Salah the best player in the world right now?

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It was not even a quarter of a chance, was it?

When Mohamed Salah received the ball from Curtis Jones in the 76th minute of Liverpool’s showdown with Manchester City, he had his back to goal and three defenders for company. He was on the left corner of the penalty area, surrounded and covered. No real threat.

Or so we thought.

In an instant, and through the most beautiful mix of skill, strength, balance and ingenuity, Salah left Joao Cancelo and Phil Foden for dead. He put Bernardo Silva on his backside. Then he skinned Aymeric Laporte before finally, with devastating precision, fired past Ederson.

“A goal from another planet,” Gary Neville, commentating for Sky Sports, called it. Jurgen Klopp, speaking after the game, said that people will be talking about it in 50 or 60 years’ time.

“Only the best players in the world score goals like this,” the Liverpool boss added. “Absolutely exceptional.”

Is there anyone in world football playing better than Salah at this moment? It is a legitimate question. The Egypt international has been a star for years, but rarely, if ever, has his level been higher than it is right now.

“I don’t think there’s anyone better in the world at this moment, I really don't,” said Jamie Carragher, the former Liverpool defender, on Sunday. Over on BBC Radio 5 Live, Chris Sutton, a Premier League winner with Blackburn, was in agreement. 

“We don’t have to get into the whole ‘is he better than [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo?’ thing,” Sutton said. “At this moment in time, he’s better than them.”

It is hard to argue, given Salah’s form. Already this season, he has nine goals and three assists. Ronaldo, if we do wish to compare, has five goals, while Messi has ‘only’ contributed that stunning strike against Manchester City since his move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored in his last seven matches, equalling the personal record he set during his first season at Liverpool in 2017-18. He finished that campaign with 44 goals in all competitions, and on recent evidence he will not be far away from that total this time around.

“He’s one of the greatest players ever to play for Liverpool,” says Carragher. “Liverpool lost Roger Hunt recently, one of the greatest goalscorers ever seen. Mo Salah is right up there, no doubt about that.”

It is hard to overstate Salah’s importance to Liverpool. Since his arrival from Roma in 2017, he has scored 134 goals and added 46 assists in 212 games. He has won two Golden Boots, a PFA Player of the Year award, the Champions League, Premier League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup. His four completed seasons at Anfield have seen him finish with 44 goals, 27, 23 and 31. He has missed only seven league games in that time. 

“He is absolutely outstanding,” says Micah Richards, who played alongside Salah at Fiorentina. “He's enhanced the role that Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery made their own, with a goal record that puts many of the top No.9s in Europe in the shade.”

It is Salah’s presence, above all others, which makes Liverpool contenders for the top honours this season. Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane are vital, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Fabinho are fantastic, but Salah is the difference-maker.

“Without Mo, Liverpool aren't in the title race this season,” Richards adds. “Quite simply, he is irreplaceable.”

It is not just the sheer volume of goals which makes Salah so special, either. It is the importance of them, the variation of them.

“He can score all types of goals,” says Peter Crouch, the former Liverpool striker. “He's one of those players where you know what's going to happen, you know he wants to get on his left foot, but you cannot stop him.”

Salah’s goals last season were worth 17 points to Liverpool, and he has started this season in a similar vein. Already, he has scored against both Chelsea and Manchester City and netted the opener against Leeds United. In the Champions League, he grabbed the equaliser against AC Milan and the all-important first goal away in Porto. In terms of European goalscorers for Liverpool, only Steven Gerrard sits above him.

“He’s a joy to watch, an assassin in and around the box,” says Rio Ferdinand, the ex-Manchester United and England defender.

“He’s an absolute killer. Go and watch Salah and what he does. He dominates and destroys top-level players on a regular basis. He makes the game look easy, he makes football look easy. Salah has it all.”

Who are his peers right now, then? Who is rivalling him as the world’s best?

Messi and Ronaldo, naturally, will always be in the conversation, though at 34 and 36 respectively, their peak has surely passed. 

Kylian Mbappe is widely considered the player to take over from those two, yet even his numbers trail Salah’s so far this season. Mbappe has four goals and five assists for PSG - impressive, but inferior for now.

Over in Germany, Robert Lewandowski’s hot-streak has lasted a decade. He has 14 goals already for Bayern Munich this season, too. Only Covid-19 denied the Poland star a Ballon d’Or last year, and his record-breaking feats in the Bundesliga confirm his status as one of the deadliest, most consistent players around.

Erling Haaland is perhaps the heir to Lewandowski’s throne, in terms of out-and-out No.9s. The Borussia Dortmund star, 21, has 11 goals this season - although three came against lower-league opposition in the German Cup - and looks, like Mbappe, ready to dominate the game for years to come.

Karim Benzema, meanwhile, is another forward operating at an otherworldly level right now. Real Madrid are far from a fantastic team, but their French star has 10 goals already, and will again carry pretty much all of their hopes this season. At 33, and having lived in the shadow of Ronaldo for the peak years of his career, Benzema remains one of the world’s most underrated superstars - if such a thing exists.

The same has been said of Salah, as it happens. On Tuesday an article was published on the website of one of the UK’s biggest newspapers.

“Mohamed Salah is the world’s best player - so why is he not idolised more?” it asked. 

Liverpool fans, understandably, took exception. ‘Idolise Salah more?’ they asked. ‘How, exactly?!’

Salah’s name rings out at each and every game, home and away. No player sells more shirts in the club shops. No player is more in demand when it comes to autographs or selfies with supporters. 

Fans are desperate for him to sign a new contract, with his current deal heading towards its final 18 months. If he is underappreciated or undervalued elsewhere - and in all honesty, he probably isn’t - then he certainly isn’t at Anfield.

“You can’t not love Mo Salah,” John Arne Riise, the former Liverpool defender, told Goal this week. “He just keeps going and going and going, and he’s always smiling. He just never stops.

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“What he’s done for so many years is just incredible, and I hope he’ll be around for many years to come.”

No Reds fan would argue with that. However long Salah remains on Merseyside, he should be cherished, enjoyed, adored. We may never see his kind again.

The best in the world? He just might be.

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