Premier League Footballer of the Year: Mohammed Salah, the crowning glory of football with a human face

There have been years in which being named “Premier League Player of the Year” has been more of a coronation than a vote: if the ritual is followed to the letter, the outcome is known to all long before the counting of the ballots, so much so. a candidate stands out from the crowd. It was the case of Thierry Henry in 2004, of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007 and 2008, of Luis Suarez in 2014 or even of Mohammed Salah in 2018, when the Egyptian had finished his admirable year with a record of forty-four goals and sixteen assists in fifty-two games for Liverpool FC.

And then there are other vintages where we can only think too much, where we change our minds at almost every game, where we feel that whatever name we choose, we will have done an injustice towards players who deserved to stand out in this. way. 2021-22 is one of them. Salah? Sure. But what about Mané, Jota and van Dijk, an Alexander-Arnold invention? What about De Bruyne, of course, but also about Mahrez, Foden, Ederson and Bernardo Silva? by Declan Rice, transformed – and transformative of West Ham, in England as in Europe? by Son Heung-Min, admirable as always, or even by Kane, despite a very complicated start to the season? Without forgetting outsiders like Crystal Palace’s Conor Gallagher or Bukayo Saka, the symbol of Arsenal’s rebirth.

An undisputed coronation

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The Football Writers Association (FWA), which since 1948 has awarded the most prestigious individual trophy in English football

, had also postponed the deadline for the submission of votes to April 27 at midnight, later than in any other season, just eight days before the gala dinner during which the winner – and winner of the women’s trophy, the Australian center forward Sam Kerr – would be presented with their trophies. His National Committee, of which I am a member, intended to give the hundreds of members of the association as much time as possible to decide; most of the favorites for the trophy would be in action in the Champions League semi-finals that week and their performances in those tough matches could make all the difference. Why not wait a few more days?

But when it came time to take stock, contrary to what we had thought, one winner stood out clearly from the others. Mohammed Salah won with 48% of the votes, 29 points clear of runner-up Kevin de Bruyne and 35 over third-placed West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, whose presence in the leading trio was partly explained by consistency and the exceptional quality of his performances for the Hammers, but also for a point of regulation: you vote for only one player, which harms those whose clubs are richest in postulants, such as Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk, who arrived Fourth and fifth respectively in the ballot. Eight Liverpool players received at least one vote, all six from Manchester City, which only made Salah’s success even more extraordinary: no “footballer of the year” had beaten his rivals until now since Eden Hazard had them all. agreed in 2015.

Mohamed Salah, scorer against Inter

Credit: Getty Images

An almost perfect year

Salah, however, hadn’t had a perfect season like 2017-18. For several months, from August to the end of October, months whose memory obviously had not been erased in the memories of the voters, he had reached a kind of fullness, sometimes touching the sublime, scoring in particular two incredible goals against Manchester City and Watford. But the winter had been more difficult. He had had to join the national team and live with them the double disappointment of a defeat in the CAN final and, subsequently, of an elimination from the World Cup, with, each time, the Senegal of teammate Sadio Mané in the role of Nemesis.

If he ever stopped contributing to Liverpool’s return to the title race, he’d been in a more discreet role; the cloud over which he had flown for the first part of the season had dissipated and Salah had descended among the mortals. Perhaps he was affected by the backlash of the Egyptian woes, perhaps also by the uncertainty surrounding his future at Liverpool, his contract with the Reds expiring on 30 June 2023. But this hesitation did not last long, and the Salah we have seen endangering Manchester United in mid-April again felt like what we had so admired six months earlier. In other words, to a potential “footballer of the year”.

“In England Salah has a big advantage over Mané but Benzema remains the favorite”

That said, the same could be said of Kevin de Bruyne, brilliant since the beginning of the calendar year, or of Mané, even more effective – 9 goals in 12 games – when Jürgen Klopp asked him to play on axis rather than on the left flank. that he likes. That Salah ended up in front of these two challengers, and everyone else with them, shouldn’t come as a surprise. But that he did it clearly indicated that another factor was at work, not just the fact that he was close to winning the Premier League Golden Boot for a third time.

or that his club is now looking for an unprecedented quadruple.

That factor is Salah himself, the most fascinating embodiment of football with a human face that Jürgen Klopp’s team can offer us match after match, even when they don’t play “well”. It’s her joy of playing, her genius, her imagination, his generosity. It is his smile, his humility. It is her way of celebrating his goals without indulging in monotonous and sterile choreographies in which true joy is absent. By choosing Salah, English football is also choosing Liverpool, a club and a team that not only score school goals, but also goal playgrounds; a club and a team that breathe both the pleasure of playing and the satisfaction of winning, with all that implies of imperfections, imperfections that bring them even closer to us spectators. You have to admire Liverpool and Salah for what they do, but it’s not just what they do that wins you over. The breath that seems to fill the sails of this team takes us with it as we are transported elsewhere by an irresistible music. Isn’t choosing Salah just another way to thank him in the end?

Stanley Matthews, then in Blackpool, was the first recipient, as well as the first

Golden Ball

story eight years later.

Salah had already won this trophy in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the second time sharing it with Sadio Mané.

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