matt’s corner

Salah must be the man to end Messi-Ronaldo stranglehold on Ballon d’Or

‘The King of Egypt’ has captured the imagination of football lovers

Matthew Smith, Deputy Editor Sports
14:12 May 4, 2018

Regardless of what happens in Kiev, one thing is now clear.

The Cristiano Ronaldo/Lionel Messi stranglehold on who is the world’s best player is over.

If Mohammad Salah and Liverpool come up short against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, for me, there is still only one man who should win the Ballon d’Or this year. For the past decade, a Portuguese and Argentine have shared the accolade equally between them. Now it has to go to the “King of Egypt”.

As Michael Owen - a former player of both the Reds and Los Blancos - said when speaking exclusively to Gulf News in Dubai on Thursday: “A Champions League medal would certainly strengthen his claim.”

It certainly would. But I don’t think he needs it.

No one across the planet has lit up the game in the way Salah has this season. He already has fans salivating at what Egypt could do in Russia at the World Cup this year.

His play, determination, down-to-earth attitude, humility and charitable nature means even the most critical football pundits have found it impossible to slate him. He has everything a manager or fan could want in a player, kind of like a Messi before all those tattoos and tax scandals.

The way he tears teams apart, scores screamers and little dinks over the goalkeepers, tracks back and lays on assists for his teammates is unsurpassed.

He is not just a breath of fresh air to the whole who-is-the-best-player debate. He is the best player. Hands down, hands up and feet first.

In a campaign that has put Ronaldo on the brink of lifting the European Cup for a third consecutive year for Real Madrid, seen Messi lead Barca to a potential “invincible” season domestically, and Manchester City’s plethora of stars rewrite the records in England, still only one man stands out as the winner.

We have witnessed a Champions League tournament unlike any other, with amazing comebacks, stunning upsets and (I’ve not done the maths) probably the most goals in the knockout stages since the competition began in its current format, yet one guy has stood out from Cairo to Moscow to my home town of Johnstone.

Salah.

As I said, Ronny and Messi have staked their claim - again - and both have had tremendous seasons. Barca will win La Liga while Real may win the Champions League. But the Ballon honours “the male player deemed to have performed the best over the previous year, based on voting by football journalists “, not medals or silverware.

Should Liverpool come up short in Kiev on May 26, it would still be a real shame if the true standout star of the past 12 months does not get recognised as what he is: the best player on the planet.