Mohamed Salah steps up to become a Liverpool legend with Champions League victory
The Egyptian's early penalty set Jurgen Klopp's side up for their sixth European Cup win
Mohamed Salah would be forgiven if he had woken up this morning, reached gingerly at his shoulder and smiled to himself at confirming it was not tender to the touch.
Some of his other joints will be aching, because he ran hard and and covered extensive mileage on Saturday during a Champions League final played out in hot, humid conditions, and one which, taut and poised until close to the end, tired the mental muscles as well.
But it started, and finished as a joyous occasion for Liverpool and for Salah in particular.
“Everyone is happy,” he smiled as he reflected on his first European Cup triumph, and could not help but look back to his previous, thwarted attempt to win it. “I am glad finally to play 90 minutes in a final.”
Just over 12 months ago, Salah departed the final, against Real Madrid in Kiev, with an hour left to play in the match, and with him went much of Liverpool’s vigour and confidence.
He had injured his shoulder badly. Or rather, the Real Madrid captain, Sergio Ramos, had injured Salah’s shoulder badly, in a challenge that looked, at the very least, a purposeful attempt to go in hard on the most threatening player in the opposition team.
This, remember, was the Salah who had just scored 44 goals in his first season with Liverpool.
Real Madrid won 3-1 in Kiev, and extended their reign as uninterrupted European champions into a third year. And on Saturday, Real were finally formally replaced as holders on Saturday, poignantly in their own city, as Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0, putting the outcome beyond Spurs only once Divock Origi, on from the substitutes’ bench, scored the second goal in the 87th minute.
Salah had scored number one, in the very first minute. Or, technically, well into the third minute because, between Liverpool being awarded a penalty within the first 30 seconds of play and their spot-kicker actually galloping forward to strike it, there was a long delay.
VAR needed to confirm that Moussa Sissoko had handballed Sadio Mane’s lofted pass - Salah was Mane’s intended target - and the referee apparently needed to give Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris a lengthy lecture.
All this time Salah waited. If his nerves jangled in those moments, he kept it a secret. If he thought back to Kiev and to the lasting effect of that wrenched shoulder, an injury that kept him from participating in the opening match of his country, Egypt’s, first World Cup for 28 years, he hid those emotions.
But in the power he put into the penalty, there was clearly a pent-up determination. It was not a low-risk spot-kick; in fact it was close enough to Lloris, who dived the correct way, to have saved it had it not whizzed past him with such force.
Salah looked ecstatic, and also a little relieved. Fate seemed to have blessed him at the earliest opportunity with an invitation to right the wrongs of the 2018 final.
Had James Milner, an accomplished penalty-taker, been in Liverpool’s starting line-up, perhaps Salah would not have been the man to set Liverpool on course for what is the sixth European Cup of their history, but the first for their galvanising coach, Jurgen Klopp, and this group of players.
It is the trophy they have lacked, and perhaps needed after running Manchester City so close in the race for the Premier League title.
Liverpool have played more thrillingly and more fluently in the last nine months than they did in conquering Tottenham at the Metropolitano, and Salah has certainly had better games.
He worked hard from his first touch - the penalty - to his last, but there were few of the dashing slaloms, the bursts of speed to get behind the opposition defence, or the precise shots that are all in his portfolio.
At times, Liverpool's front players struggled to connect smoothly with one another, and they sensed the malfunctions. Captain Jordan Henderson more than once beckoned Salah towards him to talk through why their usual routines were not clicking into place.
Tottenham have been better this season, too, and they left their most threatening moments to late in the game, when Liverpool showed how they have grown since Kiev.
Then, against Real Madrid, they were let down by their goalkeeper, Loris Karius as well as missing the injured Salah’s pizzazz.
On Saturday, in Madrid, Alisson Becker, the keeper they signed last summer, made commanding interventions to keep Spurs at bay.
“Everybody did his best,” said Salah, emphasising the strength of Klopp’s collective. “It was not a day of great individual performances.”
He meant that as an admission that he has performed more brilliantly, many times, for Liverpool.
But it had still been the most special night of his extraordinary time at the club.
Updated: June 2, 2019 11:51 AM