Nobody wants to come up against Mohamed Salah right now – not even in training.
“It’s a nightmare when you’re facing him,” Trent Alexander-Arnold admitted to reporters after watching his Liverpool team-mate both create and score two goals while terrorising Juan Jesus during last week’s 5-2 rout of Roma.
“During the week, there are times I don’t really like him – because he does that stuff to me!”
In reality, though, it’s hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about Salah; he has the whole world of football fawning at the moment with his scintillating showings for Liverpool.
His fellow professionals in England have already voted him Player of the Season, while there are mounting calls for him to be considered for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
“It’s difficult to compare him to Ronaldo and Messi because they’ve done it for so long and they’ve been consistent year in, year out,” Steven Gerrard mused on BT Sport last week.
“But without a shadow of a doubt he’s the best player on the planet right now.”
That is a bold claim on the part of the former Liverpool captain, particularly as Messi has just led a sub-par Barcelona squad to a domestic double, while Ronaldo has Real Madrid on the cusp of a third successive Champions League title after 15 goals in just 12 outings.
However, at this early stage, Salah is undoubtedly a strong candidate.
“Messi is the best footballer I have ever played against but now Mo Salah is going to be feared like the Argentine,” Roma goalkeeper Alisson told Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday. “With the season he is having, he can be in contention for the Ballon d’Or.”
Certainly, his stats this season stand up to those of Messi. Indeed, he trails the Barcelona No.10 by just one goal in the race for this season’s European Golden Shoe, with the Egyptian having already equalled the Premier League record for a 38-game season (31) in just 34 appearances.
Messi’s contribution to Barcelona’s hitherto unbeaten Liga campaign cannot be overestimated, though. Not only has he scored more goals than any other player in the Primera Division, he has racked up the most assists (12) and created the most chances (82).
The greatest club footballer of all time (he has now won nine Spanish titles, more than Alfredo di Stefano) has just produced the most influential season of his already stellar career but the Blaugrana’s quarter-final exit in the Champions League is a major issue in terms of his bid for the Ballon d’Or.
Indeed, the general consensus is that he still trails his great rival Ronaldo in the race for this year’s prize because when it comes to the game’s most prestigious individual honour, the Champions League has become increasingly decisive.
While it may seem rather ridiculous, the Champions League, a cup competition, is now regarded as a better barometer of sustained excellence than a league campaign.
Indeed, Madrid captain Sergio Ramos even argued on Tuesday, “It’s been a great season for Barcelona with two titles but winning the Champions is like winning both titles – even better.”
Ballon d’Or voters seem to agree. Just three times in the past 10 years has the Ballon d’Or not gone to a Champions League winner: Messi, in 2010 and 2012, and Ronaldo in 2013.
In that sense, one can understand just why there was widespread disbelief that Wesley Sneijder failed to make the podium in 2010, and why Franck Ribery didn’t win in 2013.
Sneijder was a star of Inter’s treble-winning side and even helped Netherlands reach the final of the World Cup in South Africa.
Ribery, meanwhile, was a key man in Bayern’s treble triumph yet lost out to Ronaldo, who didn’t win a single title with Real Madrid.
But then, the Portuguese superstar is always a big hit with voters because of his prolificacy and should he help Real retain their European crown in Kiev on May 26, he will be the overwhelming favourite to be voted the best player in the world for the third year in a row.
But then, the same goes for Salah. To follow up a record-breaking Premier League with an unexpected Champions League triumph would put the Egyptian sensation in pole position for the Ballon d’Or.
Of course, the World Cup used to be hugely influential in terms of the voting – it proved pivotal for Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – and if, for example, Neymar were to inspire Brazil to victory in Russia, or Messi put the argument over whether he is the greatest player of all time to bed by leading an average Argentina team to an unlikely triumph, everything would change.
As it stands, though, Salah is undeniably among the frontrunners. Helping Liverpool finish the job they started on Merseyside last week will, thus, be pivotal to his push for further individual honours.
“After being named PFA Player of the Year, he can now put himself in the bracket for the Ballon d’Or too,” Frank Lampard argued.
“It will be hard for him to break the group that is Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It will take a lot to do that.
“But if he takes Liverpool to the Champions League title, that could well do it.”
Indeed, with a winners’ medal around his neck, not even Ronaldo or Messi would be confident of going up against Salah in the battle for this year’s Ballon d’Or.