According to prominent sports scientist Simon Brundish, this is a Yes – and he has the statistics to prove it.
Eighteen years later, Mo Salah has followed Henry’s path by swapping Italy for England – this time for the benefit of Liverpool.
The Egyptian has scored more than 100 times in just four seasons since leaving Rome, spearheading the club’s sixth Champions League triumph in 2019 and a first league win in three decades the following year.
That number of goals is even more noteworthy given that Salah typically operates from wide positions, rather than as a center forward like Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku.
“I think as a Premier League player he’s unprecedented,” CNN Sport’s Brundish said.
“The closest we have to him is Thierry Henry, but by the time he was Salah’s age he had already moved up to center striker – until 23 he sometimes played from the left.
“Henry could be the other most underrated and underrated footballer in Premier League history with Salah.”
Worthy of the Ballon d’Or?
With six goals in his first seven games, Salah has had a usually prolific start to Liverpool’s 2021/22 league campaign.
Last Friday saw the announcement of the list of finalists for the Men’s Ballon d’Or, with Salah among the 30 nominees for football’s highest individual honor. The Ballon d’Or ceremony takes place in Paris on November 29.
Despite a 32-goal campaign and Golden Boot winner in his first season at Liverpool and his efforts since, Salah has never reached the podium for the award – a fact that baffles Brundish – although the sports scientist thinks that the attacker is on the right track. to avenge any previous injustice this season.
“I think if he continues like this, there’s no argument,” Brundish said.
“I don’t think there is anyone who has anything like the season he currently has. If Liverpool have a good run in Europe – they usually tend to be good in Europe – and win one league titles or the Champions League, I think he has the momentum.
“I think he should have won it in 2017/18, he was the best player on the planet that year. The caveat is that Messi was the best player on the planet because he is still the best player on the planet until he was no longer breathing., but Salah was the top performing player. “
Dive into statistics
The numbers lend credence to Brundish’s analysis – 152 league games played for Liverpool, 101 goals and 36 assists. These aren’t the kind of stats that require additional quantification or explanation to show Salah’s greatness, and yet Brundish is coming in with additional revenue anyway.
This refers to analytical metrics known as expected goals and expected assists – data that effectively measures the likelihood that shots and final passes end in goals. A value is generated between zero and one to quantify the probability of a goal for each action: zero being impossible to score and one being a certain goal.
Expected goals (xG) take into account variables such as angle of shot and distance to goal, while expected assists (xA) are also based on factors such as the origin of the pass and the place where the goalscorer initially received the ball.
Taking Salah’s goal against Liverpool as an example, Curtis Jones would be given a relatively low xA figure for his short pass to the Egyptian who immediately preceded the goal, given the distance from Salah and the number of defenders at City. on his way.
Likewise, given the sharp angle of Salah’s finish, the xG assigned to his shot would have been small compared to an open shot from the center of the box.
“Outperforming” xG – scoring more goals than the expected number accumulated – may indicate a high level of finishing ability, something Salah has already shown this season by outperforming 1.14 xG in his first seven league games.
For Brundish, this is a “significant” indication of Salah’s talents and accompanies a slew of other stats to quantify his worth – only Belgian Manchester City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne comes close.
“Salah has the best season in Premier League history, obviously in 17/18, but since 17/18 he has created the most chances for himself by anyone not called De Bruyne,” said Brundish said.
“He played more passes in the box, created more xA, more chances, carried the ball into the box, had more hits on the penalty bench – so he carried the ball and received the ball in the box more than anyone.
“And he’s created more xG after the shot – the value of what happens after the shot. He’s added the most to that shot of anyone in the league over the past four years.
“Currently this season, Mo Salah has a goal or an assist every 59 minutes, and he has scored a goal or an assist every 58 minutes in his debut season for Liverpool.
“So you can’t just judge on goals and assists, but if we do, only Thierry Henry has a better goal and assists rate than Mo Salah in Premier League history from anyone who has scored 50 goals.
“On top of that he’s missed two games with injury. It’s an absurd level of value. De Bruyne is the only player in the league who could be as good as Salah, but he has missed 38 games over the course of of that period. It doesn’t. Matter if you’re that good if you don’t play. “
Is Salah then underestimated?
It seems ironic that a player with such a mountain of statistical evidence to boost his abilities could be underestimated and yet, Brundish claims, that is exactly the case.
Having worked with various Premier League clubs, Brundish believes Salah is extremely popular among other players. However, in mainstream sports media, the ones that “define the narrative,” credit is often quickly followed by criticism.
“There’s always a ‘Yeah, but …’ with Salah,” Brundish said.
“They always find a reason to say, ‘Yes, but he’s selfish,’ ‘Yes, but he’s not working hard.’ Sadio Mane [Salah’s teammate] would be rated higher by the experts who define the narrative, but statistically, they are not comparable.
“One is an all-time great, and the other is a brilliant footballer, but he’s not an all-time great, and we grossly downplayed him.”
The “selfish” and “lazy” labels directed at Salah are spikes that Brundish finds particularly annoying. For a scientist whose entire job revolves around using data to create and support conclusions, this is “very boring”.
“You can’t be so selfish while creating more chances for your teammates than anyone in the league,” Brundish said.
“It’s not ‘sometimes he creates chances’ – he’s actually more generous than anyone else in the whole league. So you can’t use those stories – they can’t exist at the same time. – one is wrong and it has been pointed out several times.
“‘He doesn’t work hard.’ Well, statistically, he has more third final presses than anyone in Europe, and he has the most third final ball recoveries than anyone in Europe.
“He does all of those tough things that you allow a bad player to do if he works hard because you know, ‘Our teamwork’, and he’s the best footballer in the league as well.
“You’ve gotten to the point where you’re either so lazy that you’re not ready to accept something different or you’re lying, and neither is a great fit for me.”
Media and public perception
Part of Brundish’s frustration comes from his belief that such criticisms have connotations that lead to implicit negative assumptions about Salah’s character.
“When you use selfish language, it’s derogatory, so you create criticism, but it also trains your brain in a certain way,” Brundish explains.
“What does selfish mean? This means that he is not successful, that he is not generous, and that he will make bad choices for his personal gain. – giving for the team is the most important thing. “
This allusion to the ideals at the heart of English football, to the way it sees itself, forms the basis of Brundish’s explanation as to why such criticisms of Salah have increased and persisted until very recently.
“There is always a bit of xenophobia,” he argues.
“Great Britain is better, England is better, the Premier League is better, he couldn’t do that on a cold and humid night, in Stoke. For all those who are not English, until ‘they’re in England for a set period – I don’t know how long – there is certainly a level of familiarity when all of a sudden they become’ ours’.
“[Cristiano] Ronaldo had that, and Thierry Henry sort of had it at the end – you certainly find him with the foreign players.
“There was always something gnawing at him, ‘There must be something wrong with him, because he can’t be that good.’ It was almost like an offense to their judgment that he was proving them wrong.
“I was a little pissed off about it, and have been for three or four years. Yet something has changed over the past three weeks where they now talk about him like maybe he could in fact be from. world class after all. I think maybe this is just her fifth year, maybe it is that easy. “
Brundish also believes that Salah’s initial ‘rejection’ of English football, in which he was bought by Chelsea from Rome in 2014 and sold by manager Jose Mourinho two years later, contributed to the school of Salah skeptics.
“Salah had the legacy of being rejected by one of our ‘foreigners’ – Mourinho,” Brundish explained.
“It was as if Mourinho didn’t think he was good enough – Mourinho is the greatest manager ever in our minds as a media expert – then there must be something wrong. “
Luckily for Salah, he undoubtedly has the full support of his current manager, Jurgen Klopp.
“Mo Salah scores this goal because he is world class,” Klopp said after the game against Manchester City.
“He’s one of the best players in the world. That’s how it is.”