This was meant to be about Mo Salah, about his talent, his future, his present, his contract and about that interview in GQ magazine. It was meant to be a celebration of Salah and the phenomenal figures he has accumulated at Liverpool – 148 goals in 228 games. He has been mesmerising before and he is again.
And it is about that. It’s just along the way it also became about happiness and Marcus Rashford, about his talent and his present. The latter could be described as tense. Salah looks up; Rashford looks down.
Salah has been called the best player on the planet at the moment – admittedly by Jürgen Klopp – and not too many would say it is an outlandish claim. No-one is calling Rashford that.
Salah could walk into any side in the world, including Manchester City’s, he could even shift one of Paris St-Germain’s forward line were it a purely sporting decision. No-one is saying this of Rashford.
Of course these sound harsh comparisons. Rashford is not Salah, not yet. The Mancunian is 24, the Egyptian is 29. We forget that 24 is still young-ish, even for footballers. Salah is an example – at 24 he was at Roma fighting his way back. He was admired and desired, but he was not the commodity he became – or, more accurately, turned himself into.
Salah was still digesting the sense of rejection he felt at not making it at Chelsea. “I needed to prove them wrong,” he says in GQ. So he set about building himself up, physically, technically and mentally. He looked in the mirror: “Some people can’t face themselves properly. But I have no problem with that. If I’m struggling, I just face myself and just feel where I am.”
What he felt he required was change, first internal and from there external. One would lead to the other. “People suffer for years,” Salah says, “because they don’t want to change. But for me, like: no. I needed to change.”
It is in him. After all, he used to change buses four times to get to training as a boy making his way through Cairo and Nasr City to play for a team called Arab Contractors. It’s a famous story now and people tend to toss it off as a tale they’ve heard before; but it wasn’t famous when Salah was doing it, there was no Netflix documentary, there was merely a small boy, the chance of football and a different life. Don’t make it sound easy, because it wasn’t.
From Egypt he went to Switzerland, then England, then Italy, then back to England and to prominence at Liverpool. Change is the purpose of history mused a novelist and on a personal level Salah probably concurs.
He changed himself into an Egyptian nickname, the Happiness Maker. He makes the people happy, just like it says on the great Shankly’s statue at Anfield. Salah may do so again on Saturday evening when Egypt play Guinea-Bissau in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Happiness matters. It matters more on a daily workplace basis than many other things but is rarely acknowledged. It matters at a training ground.
Salah has happy feet, but alongside his longer story is a current contract negotiation with Liverpool almost as circuitous as the old bus trips. Salah says he is not asking for “crazy stuff” in terms of money and it is the going rate for near-greatness he would like to receive. Liverpool fans would say he merits it. He is not an old 29.
A 24-year-old Manchester man playing for United looking disheartened?
But there is stasis; the club are aware of the reduced market for players of Salah’s salary. His options at the money his advisors would like are limited. In 18 months he could leave for nothing, but that seems a long time away; for Liverpool there would be a cost to replace him. So there is a hint of tension, when really there should not be.
Which brings us back to Rashford. During Manchester United’s deeply unconvincing victory over Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Monday, Rashford tried and failed and tried and failed. By the time of his substitution, this young man who has deservedly won accolades for standing up for others appeared ready to sit down. He looked “disheartened”, as Dion Dublin said on commentary. A 24-year-old Manchester man playing for United looking disheartened?
Happiness has been replaced by diffidence, Rashford’s previous self-assurance is fogged in self-doubt and perhaps a general scepticism about where United are as a team and where they are going as a club. What is to be done?
Salah might recommend change as a restorative solution. But as with his own situation, what are the options? A long look in the mirror would certainly be the simplest.
The view should enable Rashford to see how and what Salah turned himself into. It was through personal determination and dedication and from there the ability to fit into a system. There is no reason Rashford cannot do the same. He has time. He has an example. He, like Salah, has the neutral’s good wishes. Happiness would be the welcome by-product.
The point of Norwich City? Being Norwich City
They have been playing organised football in Norwich since 1868 and Norwich City FC have been around since 1902. They have won the Second Division or Championship five times, the League Cup twice and have played in Europe.
They are currently in the Premier League, just as they were in five of the previous ten seasons. The modern club is a success story.
Yet some people are questioning the point of Norwich City?
This is like accusing a chair of being a chair. The point of Norwich City is Norwich City, just as the point of Finn Harps is Finn Harps. They have nothing to answer.
Yes, it would be a happier club were they to win a few more games this season, but the critics of Norwich have lost sight of that as well. In terms of what we could call ‘Rx’ – realistic expectation – are Norwich doing much worse in the league than, for example, Chelsea?
Billionaire-d Chelsea go to Manchester City 10 points adrift, effectively 11 given City’s superior goal difference. Norwich, meanwhile, host Everton, three points off safety, effectively four given Norwich’s inferior goal difference. So who is doing better?
Considering the economics and where they began the season as a club, Norwich staying up is arguably a greater achievement than Chelsea winning the league.
But if they go down, they will be solvent and they will start again. They will remain Norwich City, whose purpose is Norwich City.