Report from Ian Doyle after Liverpool’s clash with Aston Villa in the Premier League.
The charm offensive at Anfield started before a ball had been even kicked.
And, come full-time, it was made obvious to Mohamed Salah no amount of Saudi Arabian millions can match the affection with which he is held among Liverpool supporters.
After what seemed an eternity of flirting with the possibility, Al-Ittihad finally lodged a £150million bid for Salah as the clock ticked down on Friday’s transfer deadline day. Liverpool, as they have been ever since interest first became apparent, are insistent Salah is not for sale this summer, with the offer instantly rejected.
The player himself has remained quiet on being courted by the Saudi Pro League, although the statement from his agent Ramy Abbas Issa in early August indicated the Egyptian has no intention of jumping ship.
Nevertheless, the Liverpool supporters here on a baking afternoon against Aston Villa were keen to make their feelings known, cheering Salah’s name loudest when the line-ups were read out while offering thunderous applause.
Then early in the game, after the Egyptian was harshly adjudged to have fouled Lucas Digne, the Kop burst into an impromptu rendition of the Salah chant, swiftly joined by the rest of the home crowd inside Anfield.
Salah responded to such backing as he always does – by marrying a hard-working, non-stop performance with a succession of decisive contributions.
Less than three minutes in, strong pressing from Salah and Darwin Nunez forced the corner from with Dominik Szoboszlai smashed in the opener. And it was the Egyptian’s low cross after running on to the excellent Trent Alexander-Arnold’s inviting pass that found Nunez to strike a shot that hit the post and deflected in off Villa’s Matty Cash for the second.
Nunez then returned the favour in the second half, flicking on Andy Robertson’s corner for Salah to snaffle at the far post and cap a victory that turned a good start to the season for Liverpool into a great one, 10 points taken from what, for a variety of differing reasons, were four tricky fixtures.
On the final whistle, Salah shook hands with his team-mates, the match officials and the Villa players before walking down the tunnel. The lack of a big farewell gesture to the home supporters suggested this wasn’t someone who had made his last appearance for the club.
With the Saudi transfer window not closing until Thursday, Liverpool will surely be braced for an increased bid from Al-Ittihad. The next few days will be rife with reports aimed at testing the Reds’ resolve.
Whether its £200m, £250m or beyond, Salah, like every player, ultimately has a value. But the love felt for the forward from Liverpool fans? That’s priceless.