LIVERPOOL — Mohamed Salah could become Liverpool’s most expensive signing following his move from Roma, depending on exchange rates. But he should provide a considerable return on the investment, according to a former teammate.
“He’s perfect for Liverpool,” ex-FC Basel striker Marco Streller told ESPN FC by phone. “The football of Jurgen Klopp is exactly for him.”
Salah’s rise has been fast. Basel had been tracking the winger, who was playing for Arab Contractors in the Egyptian Premier League, since 2011 but stepped up their pursuit after he put two past them in a friendly for Egypt’s Under-23s side.
At the time, the Egyptian domestic league was suspended following the Port Said stadium disaster, and Basel invited the then-20-year-old on a one-week trial before signing him permanently in April 2012.
“I was one of the experienced players, and the sporting director [Georg Heitz] asked me: ‘What do you think about Salah?'” recalled Streller, who has subsequently replaced Heitz in the post.
“I thought he was a skilful player, he was very fast. I said to him that he had something special. But it was not easy for a guy to come from Egypt in our country and perform.
“I didn’t say we had to buy him, I said he was skilful but maybe needed a little more time. Then, I guess it was special because the season in Egypt stopped, so we had the chance to buy him for a good price. I said to Georg: ‘We know then that we have to buy him.'”
And when he arrived, Salah did not waste any time making his mark in Switzerland.
“He improved every day. As a striker, he would always get the ball and play direct to me,” Streller added. “At the beginning, he had a little problem in front of the goal — he was not a killer in front of the goal.
“Most of the time he would play on the right side with his left foot. He always searched for the central striker and he always went deep.
“As a striker and also for the players who play the ball behind the defenders, he was so important. He was always in movements, and he worked a lot for the team — not just in offence, but also in the defence.
“He was the fastest player I played with, for sure. It was amazing. He was so fast that when my pass was not always good, he would get it.”
It was a successful 1½-season stay in Switzerland for Salah, and he appeared on the radar of European heavyweights following match-winning contributions in the Champions League and Europa League.
After scoring to help Basel knock out Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League quarterfinals back in April 2013, Salah went on to find the back of the net three times in four matches against Chelsea.
Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool had been in pole position to land the Egypt international, but, having been impressed by his performances against them, Chelsea swooped, and he moved to Stamford Bridge for £11m in January 2014.
“Listen, we have to be honest. A player from Egypt does not come to Basel to play in the Swiss league,” Streller said. “It’s not an important thing for them — they want to play in the Champions League.
“It’s a big advantage for us if we go into negotiations when we say, ‘We can play in the Champions League, and then you can jump into a higher league if you perform there’. This was a reason why he came to us.
“Of course, he was more motivated in these big games. We had some experienced players in our team, and we helped him a lot. He was young and we took pressure away from him. But we knew that he would score for us and he would make the difference for us in these big games.”
However, while he impressed at Basel, Salah did not make the grade at Chelsea and played in just 19 games in 1½ seasons, scoring two goals. Heading out on a six-month loan to Fiorentina, he spent another year with AS Roma before joining them for about €15m last summer.
Getting his career back on track, Salah scored 15 goals for Roma as they finished as Serie A runners-up last season. In addition to proving himself as a blistering outlet on the counter-attack, Streller believes Salah can also thrive when his team dominate the ball.
“In our home league [Switzerland], we [Basel] have lots of ball possession,” he said. “In ball possession, he’s a really good football player — he’s not just fast. For the football of Klopp — high pressing, get the ball back and then get the ball deep — he is perfect.
“He’s always in movement, so it’s difficult to control him, even if a team is a little bit deeper. Also, in Italy, they have a lot of players in defence and he [still] scored a lot of goals.
“I’m not surprised that he plays for Liverpool because I know they were still in contact before he went to Chelsea. It’s not a new player, and they’ve watched him in the last three years. I guess it’s the right decision for Liverpool.”
Liverpool have made a statement by spending big money to bring Salah back to the Premier League, but the winger will have plenty to prove himself once he pulls on the famous red shirt. The club finally have their man, but only time will tell if he will be able to lead them to new heights.