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Mohamed Salah could face challenge from Liverpool teammate for the one thing he really wants

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Mohamed Salah has been sidelined for Liverpool at a crucial time. His teammates have done well in his absence, but there could be one unwelcome consequence.

If you’d told Mohamed Salah when he set off for the African Cup of Nations that he would not play for Liverpool again until February 17, he’d probably have been thrilled. It would have suggested an extended run for Egypt at the tournament.

The reality, unfortunately, was far less exciting. Despite representing the most successful nation in the history of the tournament, Salah is yet to win AFCON, and didn’t even get close on this occasion. He returned to Liverpool after picking up an injury in the group stages, and his team fell at the first knockout hurdle on penalties in his absence.

The Liverpool hiatus has since dragged on, with his return against Brentford yielding a goal, assist and aggravation of the initial injury. Speaking ahead of the Nottingham Forest game, Jürgen Klopp confirmed that Salah will play no part, although he is expected to return next week.

That should bring him back into contention for the massive clash against Manchester City. This has the potential to be title-defining, and Salah would back himself to play a significant part.


For the time being, however, the narrative has shifted in his absence. After heroics in the Carabao Cup final, Virgil van Dijk has risen to prominence in the public eye as the leader of this Liverpool team.

A chat on ESPN FC underscores the point. Steve Nicol and Shaka Hislop both selected Van Dijk when asked who they would pick as the Premier League’s Player of the Season if the campaign ended now.


The other side of Christmas, Salah’s name would surely have been getting mentioned. Remarkably, he is still averaging more than one goal contribution per game, recording 19 goals and 10 assists in 28 appearances.

But public acclaim is fickle. And while Salah already has the PFA award in his trophy cabinet, he’s made no secret of the fact that the Ballon d’Or is the one individual award he really craves.

It doesn’t float everyone’s boat, but the award undeniably carries with it a great deal of prestige. Salah confessed he was ‘shocked’ when he only finished seventh in 2021 — and having made the shortlist every year since joining Liverpool, he has never got higher than fifth.

This year was always going to be an uphill battle, with Liverpool outside of the Champions League. But with an unprecedented quadruple still on, representatives from the Reds are surely still in with an outside shot.

But a disappointing AFCON will be a major setback to Salah. He must come to terms with the fact that one of the biggest challengers may well come from within Liverpool.

Clearly, Van Dijk is getting the acclaim he deserves at the minute. Should he enjoy a similar moment around the time that votes are cast, he undoubtedly has the cachet to walk away with the Ballon d’Or; he came within just seven votes in 2019, finishing second to Lionel Messi.

Already, the Dutchman has produced a final that may well be remembered as the ‘Van Dijk final’ (although the Academy final would be just as fitting). If Liverpool can deliver more silverware this season, it’s likely he will be in the conversation.

Then there’s the Euros to factor in. Whereas Salah’s international chance is gone for another cycle, Van Dijk has the opportunity to captain the Netherlands to success, which would catapult him into ‘favorite’ territory.

It’s the nature of the beast that public opinion fluctuates, hence why many treat the Ballon d’Or with something close to disdain. Salah could yet make a strong case, with the upcoming Manchester City game a great time to start — if nothing else, his run of making the shortlist looks bound to continue. But right now, Van Dijk looks like the one likeliest to carry the flag for Liverpool.




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