Football Features

Ballon d’Or nominees 2021: The arguments for, and against, Mohamed Salah

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 9:54, 23 November 2021


Mohamed Salah is ending 2021 in the most outrageous form imaginable.

After being the only Liverpool player to maintain his Premier League-winning level into 2020/21, where his 22 goals left him within one strike of levelling Harry Kane and winning his third-straight Premier League Golden Boot, Salah has begun this season in top form.

The levels being reached by the Egyptian have been barely believable. As much as he was excellent last season, even as Liverpool won nothing and failed to defend their Premier League title, this campaign he has gone to a completely different level and no one has been able to keep up.

Salah has been so good that talk of him winning the Ballon d’Or has begun to gather some momentum. Could the Premier League’s African King really swoop in and steal the coveted award from his more illustrious colleagues? Let’s look at the arguments for and against.

Salah Ballon d’Or winner odds

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For: Premier League dominance

Mohamed Salah isn’t just doing well in the Premier League this season, he is dominating. In terms of sheer numbers, Salah has more goals than anyone (11) and only Paul Pogba can match his assist total (7).

Salah has also had the most shots (48), created the third-most chances (28) but the most big chances (9) which shows that he is getting his team-mates high quality looks at goal. He’s also completed 25/55 take-ons, which isn’t the highest total but still shows his quality.

He’s also broken records, like becoming the first Liverpool player to score in 10 consecutive games, or when he became the highest-scoring African in Premier League history with a hat-trick against Manchester United. Oh, yeah, and he got a hat-trick against Manchester United. The first Liverpool player to do so at Old Trafford since World War II.

It’s not just his goals, but also the manner of them. The quality on display is worthy of being hung in a museum, such is the staggering and yet effortless wonder of his play. The goals against Manchester City alone, dragging Liverpool to a 2-2 draw they didn’t deserve, were magic.

Against: No trophies

The main argument against Salah winning the Ballon d’Or is the simple yet harsh truth that he didn’t win anything in 2020/21. His last trophy came in 2020, and while it was the very impressive Premier League, that doesn’t change the fact that Salah and Liverpool failed to pick up any silverware this year and that almost instantly takes him out of the running. World-class performances are amazing but you have to win something to take home the Ballon d ‘Or.

For: Because Poyet (and Klopp) says so

Everyone loves Salah, but perhaps someone you wouldn’t suspect to be so vocally backing him to win the Ballon d’Or would be Gus Poyet. Yet the Uruguayan ex-Chelsea man is full of praise for Liverpool’s no. 11.

“Certainly you cannot vote for [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or, perhaps [Kylian] Mbappe or Salah, but the latter certainly is the best,” said Poyet on Al-Hayah TV. It’s a very bold statement to make, but Poyet wasn’t done.

“His influence in matches is better than Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mbappe, even if he does not score.”

That is a massive statement to make, but one that, when based on 2021/22 at least, is absolutely accurate. Salah’s influence over Liverpool games is rivalled perhaps only by Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Also, surprising no one, Jurgen Klopp both doesn’t understand the Ballon d’Or and thinks Mohamed Salah should win it. “If it’s about being in the Champions League final and scoring the most goals, it may be difficult, but if it’s on the form of the last two years, then he has a chance. Internally he always got the recognition, externally I don’t know.

“He will do it again and again. Whatever you want to write about him, do it, he deserves it.”

Against: The Cameroon Summer

The 2021 African Cup of Nations was meant to be held in Cameroon during June and July, but due to concerns about the intense wet weather in the Cameroon summer the tournament was postponed to January 2022.

Given how heavily international success weighs on the Ballon d’Or, and how good Salah has been playing over the last year or so (as Klopp said), it’s not inconceivable that he could have led Egypt to AFCON glory in Cameroon, something that would have greatly strengthened his claim to win the Ballon d’Or. But thanks to the Cameroon summer even if he does that it will too late for 2021.

Against: Too little, too late

Salah is playing magnificently right now, and he is seriously on a ridiculous run of form where he seems to have transcended his usual world-class levels and is operating on what can only be called a Messi-esque plane of existence.

There’s no doubt he is, on pure form, one of the two best players in the world right now. Poyet was absolutely right when he said that. He told no lies, except one of omission: Salah wasn’t this good last season. Despite Klopp’s assertion, Salah has not been this good for years. He’s been good, great, world-class, but not this. This is different.

And unfortunately for Salah, this is just two months of form late in the year. He didn’t produce this over even half a season, as Messi did last year (not to mention the literal decade plus of genius before that).

Salah also didn’t win a single trophy, as Messi, [Robert] Lewandowski, Benzema and Jorginho did. As magnificent as Salah has been this season, it’s all too little too late for this year’s Ballon d’Or. But keep an eye out for 2022’s award!

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How do Salah’s stats compare to the other favourites?

*Goals and assists are in Europe’s top five leagues, national cups and Uefa club competitions. 

Player Goals Assists Club trophies International trophies
Robert Lewandowski  50  5  2  0
Lionel Messi  32  9  1  1
Karim Benzema  32  12  0  1
Mohamed Salah  31  8  0  0
Jorginho  7  2  1  1
Kylian Mbappe  36  18  1  1
Bruno Fernandes  18  17  0  0
Cristiano Ronaldo  29  6  0  1

Robert Lewandowski is out in front in terms of goalscoring while Jorginho’s meager totals are down to his position, but of course he has won the two biggest trophies available to him in 2021, which no other candidate can say. The brilliant production of Kylian Mbappé is hampered by his failures in the Champions League and Euro 2020.

Why not compare your favourites below using the Squawka Comparison Matrix?

Who are the other Ballon d’Or nominees?

Salah’s goal total is undoubtedly impressive but having won nothing he is facing an uphill task to claw back the likes of Messi, who in addition to being the defending champion also won the Copa del Rey and Copa América in 2021 to give him a really strong claim.

Robert Lewandowski is another shout. He has has been absurdly prolific across 2021 and although the Golden Boot exists to reward goalscoring, the game is yet to let go of the idea that goals are the most important thing to consider when debating who should win the Ballon d’Or. So Lewandowski remains a hot favourite.

Then there is Karim Benzema, who has started the season in furious form, conjuring goals and assists out of thin air almost every game he plays for Real Madrid. He is the only player who can boast as big (or even bigger) influence over games than Salah right now.

Of course there’s also Jorginho, who won the Champions League and Euro 2020. N’Golo Kanté was absurdly dominant as Chelsea claimed the Champions League and had France not debased themselves at Euro 2020 then the beloved Frenchman would probably be the favourite for the award such is his combination of sporting excellence and warm, lovable personality. But thanks to Les Bleus crashing out to Switzerland, Kanté’s chances have been severely hampered.

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