FROM what many perceived as a gamble to what one Sunday newspaper at the weekend described as the “signing of the season”.
However you look at it now, the first three months of Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool career have been a huge success.
Yet as Liverpool and Roma publicly arm wrestled over the winger’s price tag in the summer, with the initial fee plus add ons eventually creeping into club-record territory, concerns ranged from the quality of the Italian league to whether Salah’s unsuccessful spell at Chelsea was a sign of things to come.
The Egyptian was coming off the back of a season when he had plundered 19 goals in Serie A, assisting a further 15, and he had teammate’s testimonials coming out of his ears.
But a perceived failure at Stamford Bridge, when he managed just two goals in 13 appearances, was a fact forever nagging, along with a lack of obvious opponents for his signature.
Liverpool, however, were determined Salah was the man, with Jürgen Klopp this week revealing an early summer saga of back and forth between Anfield and Stadio Olimpico was driven by a surety regarding his quality.
“We watched Salah so often, saw him so often,” he said.
“The scouting department was really behind me, and wanted to do it even earlier so that nobody could jump in! We were sure he can help us. Michael Edwards, Dave Fallows and Barry [Hunter], they were really in my ear and were on it: ‘Come on, come on, Mo Salah, he’s the solution!’
“When you have 20 players on the table, different players, it’s difficult to make an early decision, but we all were convinced about it so could make the early decision so we could really get him.”
After 12 goals in 17 appearances, including two at the weekend versus West Ham United, it is of course easy to recognise Salah’s quality and conclude that £36.9million is money well spent.
🔥 Mad how Mo Salah is the best Liverpool player of all time pic.twitter.com/fo2G5xXrtT
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 6 November 2017
Yet even with a tally that has now sparked talk of Salah targeting a 30-goal haul for the season – something last achieved by a player in Liverpool red when Luis Suarez did it in 2013-14 – there is still a feeling he may actually be capable of more.
While no one can fault his finishing in London on Saturday night, the number 11 has had moments that left player and fans alike frustrated. Think Manchester City before Sadio Mane was dismissed or his penalty versus Huddersfield Town.
That’s not to detract from what he has achieved so far, and his shots on target percentage suggests there isn’t too much to worry about, but more to put forward the idea that a patch when everything he touches turns to gold like some in Manchester City blue seem to be displaying may only just be beginning.
We’ve seen forwards have those spells before – from Suarez, from Fernando Torres, and going back further in Liverpool folklore.
Everyone knows the difference a goal getter on his game can make.
Salah’s stats so far have largely ripped up the oft-referenced notion of new signings needing a settling-in period.
Yet it’s hard not to conclude that with more time and familiarity – working on tactics, team play and generally just building understanding with those around him – the 25-year-old is going to find himself presented with more chances rather than less.
One of the highlights of his early showings in red, white and orange, is an understanding and intelligence around what is coming next – whether it’s anticipating a Phil Coutinho ball to the far post or arriving at the right place to grab the archetypal poacher’s goal.
Another clear difference between the Salah many thought Liverpool were getting and the one actually taking to the pitch for Klopp’s side is a man with more to his football armoury than just pace.
Blink and you’ll miss him! 👀 pic.twitter.com/O9SLLmtKwr
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) 6 September 2017
Yes, we have seen that raw speed leaving defenders looking like they’re running in the deep end as Salah sprints away in the distance. It’s undoubtedly an asset, and one that is keeping opponents awake at night.
But we’ve also witnessed goals born from tenacity, from strength, from a quality touch, from finishes displaying pinpoint accuracy and from final touches with an edge of the acrobatic.
Liverpool’s recruitment team deserve the plaudits for this one just as they have deserved the detractors for those that didn’t work out or didn’t happen when it looked like they should.
The irony is that Salah was once one of those – ending up at Chelsea when he looked certain to head for Merseyside.
That’s an episode that can now firmly be forgotten. Salah is no longer a missed target, a Chelsea reject, a man who can’t cut it in the Premier League or a player who has only done it in Italy.
Instead, he’s now a match winner. A player who looks worth every penny that Liverpool paid for him, a star who is so difficult to stop unless you’re a sprint champion and a versatile threat who can terrorise defenders on either flank and through the middle.
Mo Salah, la. He scores goals. And who’s going to stop him?
Salah’s flying start to the season and Liverpool’s win over West Ham were discussed on The Anfield Wrap’s weekly FREE show. To listen to that, press the play button above and if you like it, why not SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player for just £5 a month? A subscription also gives you access to our podcast archive – here are some of the highlights so far…