‘Flop’, ‘failure’ and ‘reject’ are words that tarnished Mohamed Salah when he was shown the Stamford Bridge exit door in February 2015, but those words were all too harsh.
Salah had established himself as one of Europe’s brightest talents at FC Basel when Chelsea won the race to sign the then-21-year-old for £11 million in January 2014.
His electric displays against Chelsea had seen him score in three successive appearances against the Blues, including the winner in a Champions League group game just weeks before his move to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea sold Kevin De Bruyne and Juan Mata, in addition to fighting off Liverpool’s interest, to fit him into Jose Mourinho’s squad. However, Salah still had a host of competition upon his arrival in west London, with Eden Hazard, Willian, Oscar, Andre Schurrle and Ramires all playing ahead of him.
Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were then signed in the summer of 2014 and Mourinho found his best team to lead Chelsea to the Premier League title and League Cup success. Salah’s own role in those triumphs was minimal, though, as he made just eight appearances in all competitions before joining Fiorentina on loan in the January transfer window.
By that stage, Salah had started only 10 games in all competitions for Chelsea, scoring twice. In the Premier League, he averaged only 40.77 minutes on the pitch during the least productive year of his career to date.
One of Salah’s rare starts came on the day Chelsea ended Liverpool’s 11-game winning run in April 2014. Salah was arguably Chelsea’s worst performer that day, picking up a booking, and he was replaced by Willian on the hour mark of the 2-0 win at Anfield.
The Egyptian was then substituted in a 0-0 home draw with Norwich which ended Chelsea’s slim title hopes.
But it was Salah’s final performance that finally killed off any trust between him and Mourinho when he was hauled off after 70 minutes as Chelsea lost 4-2 at home to League One side Bradford City in the FA Cup. It was a ruthless reaction from Mourinho but that proved to be the end.
After joining Fiorentina on loan, Salah made an immediate impact, scoring nine goals and providing four assists in his 26 appearances. La Viola wanted to keep him, but Roma spotted an opportunity. The Giallorossi secured him on loan with a view to buy him outright for £12.75m while Fiorentina were expecting to extend his loan.
Fiorentina accused Salah and Chelsea over a breach of contract but they lost their case at the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS). Salah wasn’t distracted as he made an even bigger impact in Italy’s capital city, scoring an impressive 33 goals, with 17 assists, in his two years in Rome. It was an easy decision for Roma to decide to pay the £12.75m to make his loan permanent.
Chelsea made a slight profit on Salah as he made his way via Serie A to Liverpool in the summer. In addition to Chelsea’s initial £11m outlay being recouped by Salah’s sale to Roma, they also picked up £2.7m as part of his move to Anfield due to clauses in the deal.
Salah has been a perfect fit at Liverpool and he is the Premier League’s top scorer. In his four years away from the Premier League, he has become a complete player. But, ahead of a reunion with Salah at Anfield on Saturday, should Chelsea be regretful about what has happened over the past two-and-a-half years?
Speaking before Manchester United faced Liverpool in October, Mourinho spoke about the sale of Salah. Unlike the sale of De Bruyne, there was no falling out or hard feelings between Salah and Mourinho as the former Chelsea boss admitted that the young Egyptian just wasn’t ready for the Premier League.
“I was aware of his great capabilities when he was with me at Chelsea,” Mourinho toldBeIN Sports . “He improved during his spell at Italy, became more mature and improved physically.
“Players need time to adapt to their new teams. Some of them remain and others prefer to move to another club. It is normal in football.”
Neither Mourinho, nor Chelsea as a club, had the patience to nurture Salah into the world star that he is today. It is true that Mourinho’s obsession with winning trophies and writing history, in the insecure environment of the Chelsea hot-seat, hasn’t made for a good breeding ground for young talent.
Salah was right to move, to learn and develop at clubs which could get away with not winning titles but also profit from his increased abilities. Chelsea’s youngsters still face the same problems that Salah did, as they bid to even get a chance of proving their worth.
There’s so much competition in a sport where you can only field 11 men. Thibaut Courtois beat Petr Cech, Oscar beat Juan Mata and now Andreas Christensen is beating David Luiz. However, De Bruyne lost out to Frank Lampard, Romelu Lukaku lost to Diego Costa and Salah lost to Eden Hazard.
Stockpiling talent is a lottery, but Chelsea are generally on the right side of it. Their directors get criticised from all angles but they sit on top of huge profits as they aim to be the beating heart of the transfer market, where every great player comes through the club.
These profits have led to the funds to sign Hazard, Fabregas, Costa and Alvaro Morata – all players who are capable of winning titles.
Salah wasn’t ready at Chelsea and now Liverpool have a great player in their squad, but fans of the Blues shouldn’t be too angry at losing the 25-year-old, with superstars of their own emerging from their controversial transfer strategy.