Champions League Final: Salah Challenges Ronaldo’s Supremacy
Salah poses a serious threat to the decade of dominance of the world player of the year award by Ronaldo & Messi
For once in a Champions League final, Cristiano Ronaldo will yield some of the spotlight to another player sweeping up adulation and personal acclaim.
While five-time world player of the year Ronaldo is chasing a record fifth Champions League triumph, and fourth with Real Madrid, Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah is chasing a first. Not just a first Champions League success, but a first major title in football in his maiden cup final.
Victory in Kiev's Olympic Stadium on Saturday would be a fitting climax to an astonishing debut season at Liverpool for Salah. A season when the Egyptian seized his second chance at a Premier League club with gusto after a faltering spell at Chelsea.
Salah has had such a devastating impact that he poses a serious threat to the decade of dominance of the world player of the year award by Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
Comparing players with Ronaldo and Messi is something you can’t do. They’re in another orbit. There are players who are in fashion, those who come and go and others who stay around.Sergio Ramos, Captain, Real Madrid
“Salah is a top player, that's clear. He's shown that this year and he's got a great chance to show that over the next few years as Ronaldo and Messi have done — but the day after tomorrow,” said Ramos.
Cristiano Ronaldo: The King
Ronaldo's decline in the first half of this season was as concerning as his reawakening in 2018 has been breathtaking.
The Portuguese star has scored 44 goals in all competitions this season, but an incredible 28 of those have come since late January.
Despite only scoring four times before La Liga's winter break, he ended up with 26 goals in that competition, behind only Messi.
But it is the Champions League that really brings out the best in him.
Ronaldo scored in Manchester United's 2008 final win over Chelsea, and has played a decisive role in each of the three finals won by Real since 2014.
This season, despite his poor domestic form, he had scored in every Champions League game prior to the semi-final win over Bayern Munich.
Karim Benzema's brace in the second leg against the Germans was crucial, but neither he nor Gareth Bale have been close to Ronaldo's standard this season.
The Madrid trio may no longer be so fearsome, but after that difficult spell, Ronaldo's figures in 2018 mean he is making his case to be crowned the world's best again.
But both Salah and Ronaldo stand locked on 44 goals for the season in all competitions heading into the final. So potent is the 33-year-old Ronaldo, he only required 43 games. Salah, who is eight years younger, played eight more than the Portuguese.
“He's the best,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said of Ronaldo, “and he proves it every year.”
Particularly in Europe, where Ronaldo is the all-time leading Champions League scorer with 120 goals. Real Madrid is seeking a record-extending 13th European club title.
Mo Salah: The Prince
While lacking the flashy touch of Ronaldo, and presenting the image of a more modest lifestyle on social media, Mo Salah is as adept at harnessing his commercial appeal.
In 2014, when Ronaldo reached the first of his four Champions League finals with Madrid, Salah was just completing his first five months drifting in and out of the Chelsea team.
Salah never settled and was eventually discarded by the west London club after only 13 appearances under Jose Mourinho. In Italy, a career stalling was reignited at Roma and Liverpool came calling last year.
Few could have imagined Salah's impact, powering the five-time European champions to their first Champions League final in 11 years with 11 goals in a run that began in the playoff round. Ronaldo eclipsed Salah in the competition with 15 goals after starting out in the group stage.
This has already been a record-breaking season for the Egyptian, whose 32-goal tally was a new best in the Premier League for a 38-game campaign.
Overall, he has scored a remarkable 44 in all competitions since his arrival at Anfield from Roma, including 11 en route Champions League final.
He has been ably supported by Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, with that threesome netting 90 goals between them in all competitions.
Nevertheless, Liverpool's hopes of winning a sixth European Cup depend to a large degree on Salah. Whether that would be enough to land the Ballon d'Or that is a different debate altogther.
(With inputs from AP)
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