- Mohamed Salah's first experience in the Premier League was an overwhelming one, but after he received a footballing education in Italy, he's an entirely different kind of player–and a bona fide superstar–upon his return with Liverpool.
Not many positives come out of a disaster. Lives lost, livelihood disrupted, families torn, normality vanquished. This was true of the Port Said Stadium tragedy back in February 2012, an incident which saw thousands of Al-Masry fans invade the arena and attack supporters of Al-Ahly, resulting in the death of 74 people and consequently seeing the Egyptian league suspended.
In the case of one individual, however, some good did come out of the aforementioned catastrophe. In order to keep the league's footballers fit and firing throughout the suspension, Swiss side FC Basel had kindly organized a friendly with the Egypt Under-23 side in an attempt to offer football to the players on the receiving end of the footballing shutdown.
Among the substitutes for the Egyptian team that day was a little-known forward named Mohamed Salah, a player for the El-Mokawloon team that plied its trade domestically in the Egyptian league, which was baring the brunt of the suspension.
The little Egyptian entered the fray at halftime with the score set at one apiece, going on to score a second-half brace to gift his side a 4-3 win over the Swiss side. Basel reacted to Salah's scintillating 45 minute display by offering him a four-year contract just a month later, and the youngster from El-Mokawloon had his chance to shine on the European stage.
Salah impressed largely in all competitions for the Super League side, but his performances in the Europa League - specifically against Chelsea and Tottenham - were what really put his name up in lights. Chelsea duly opted to sign the Egyptian for around £11m, but his move to England at that time seemed premature, and a handful of sporadic appearances hardly helped the then 21-year-old settle.
Just a year was afforded to Salah for him to impress at Stamford Bridge, but to no avail. He was loaned to Fiorentina in January 2015 as part of a deal that saw the Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado move to west London, and it was his time in Italy that arguably shaped the boy into a man.
The second half of that Serie A campaign saw Salah hit six goals in 10 league starts for the Viola, as well as setting up a further three for his new teammates, and visible maturity was creeping into the winger's game after a turbulent spell at Chelsea which perhaps came too soon.
Italy has long been an extremely precise, tactical and technical league. Chelsea's Alvaro Morata perhaps summed the division up when he said, "Carlos Tevez often tells me that Italy is like university for strikers. He’s right, as here you become a real player in every aspect. This is a unique opportunity for me." This statement seems to ring true for Salah.
Salah's exquisite form earned him a move to Roma, where he again joined on a loan deal from Chelsea until the end of the season in the Italian capital. His first season with the Giallorossi really showed Serie A and the footballing world the new-and-improved Mohamed Salah, smashing in 14 goals in just 32 league starts and winning the club's Player of the Season as his Italian tutelage came to fruition.
Consistency is the benchmark of any top professional, and if Salah were to follow his impressive debut season in Rome with a below par showing, all of the accreditation he had received would have been blotted by claims of inconsistency and ineptitude.
Incidentally, the following season was Salah's first as a permanent Roma player, joining the Italian side for a reported £15m after clearly being impressed with his debut season at the Stadio Olimpico. In relation to the aforementioned remark about consistency, Salah didn't disappoint.
A total of 15 goals in just 29 starts followed, and Salah looked frightening. His touch had improved, his dribbling had improved, his awareness had improved, as had his finishing. The most startling distinct sign of improvement however was his improved attacking intelligence.
Where the old Salah may have peeled out wide to receive the ball to feet, or make a wide run that would inevitably be crowded out, go out of play or see the Egypt international run down a blind alley, the new Salah instead reinvented himself as an inverted winger.
His runs would reek of intellect. He would begin out wide, but make his runs inside the full back where his pace would make him untouchable once he had gone, while the university that was Serie A ensured that Salah's end product was always a critical one.
Throughout his Italian expedition, Salah had also become a national star, flying the flag for Egypt in much the same way that Neymar does for Brazil. Netting 32 goals in 56 games for his country just emphasizes how much of a talismanic figure he really is for Egypt.
The summer just gone saw Liverpool purchase Salah for a club-record £36.9m figure, and it meant the Reds finally got their man after losing out to Chelsea for him all those years back. Contrastingly, however, Liverpool was getting a different player in many ways.
The young, inexperienced Egyptian lad fresh from taking his first steps on the European stage wasn't ready for the Premier League at 21. He looked timid, wary, inept both tactically and physically, but Jurgen Klopp is seeing the real Salah.
Scoring 14 goals in just his first 18 appearances in Merseyside is unprecedented. It is the quickest goals return of any player in Liverpool's history, much to Robbie Fowler's dismay, and he has the Anfield faithful salivating every time touches the ball at the minute.