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There's Mo to come Egyptian king Salah in pole position to depose football's immortals Messi and Ronaldo

The clamour grows to measure Anfield idol Mo for the game’s global crown

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Lionel Messi hasn't set the world alight since his move to PSG from Barcelona

Lionel Messi hasn't set the world alight since his move to PSG from Barcelona

Lionel Messi hasn't set the world alight since his move to PSG from Barcelona

IT UNFURLED itself above Anfield like a deposition from the Gods, a mighty standard unapologetically declaring a new world order.

The message, written in the calligraphy of genius that spilled in thrilling red ink from the quill of his own left foot, announced Mo Salah as football’s latest Caesar, untouchable, supreme, poised to inherit the title of greatest player on Earth.

If few who were inside the palpitating Mersey bearpit to witness Sunday’s latest sashaying masterclass felt inclined to present a counterargument, out in the world beyond Liverpool the consensus was not so easily found.

There were no shortage of dissenting voices in Paris and Munich and Manchester or in those many corners of the Earth that remain loyal and unshakeable Messi or Ronaldo strongholds.

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In-demand Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland celebrates another goal

In-demand Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland celebrates another goal

In-demand Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland celebrates another goal

So let’s rephrase the statement in the sober light of a Sunday morning and place a question mark at its tail.

Could the Egyptian, dancing in darting bursts beneath that riot of dark curls, really have taken ownership of the football world?

With the twin masters Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo easing toward their sporting dotage, the sense is of a dominion anticipating revolutionary change, tectonic plates shifting, and football seeking to identify and anoint a new potentate.

Ronaldo’s early flurry of decisive Manchester goals, along with the sumptuous Messi Champions League strike that did for Manchester City stills any whispers that the years have entirely decommissioned the ageing princes’ gift for the spectacular.

But for the first time since 2007 – the magical Argentine and Portuguese pair have shared 11 of the past 12 Ballon d’Ors – it feels legitimate to extend the best on the planet conversation beyond 34-year-old Leo and CR7, 36.

Even as the series of the same name returns to TV screens, ‘succession’ is a theme of these early autumnal weeks of the season.

If Messi and Ronaldo are at last to be deposed after their semi-eternal reign to whom do football’s title deeds then pass?

If the conversation, as it so often is, is restricted to those attacking, creative players who quicken the blood, then a shortlist of Salah, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe and, maybe, Kevin de Bruyne feels a reasonable place to start.

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Mohamed Salah added another brilliant goal to his long list for Liverpool

Mohamed Salah added another brilliant goal to his long list for Liverpool

Mohamed Salah added another brilliant goal to his long list for Liverpool

Mbappe, in full Parisian bullet-train speed-surge, offers an electrifying sensory jolt, while de Bruyne – though currently operating a little below his untouchable optimum – can pick any lock with one of those educated, safe-cracking flourishes.

Lewandowski, Bayern Munich’s offensive volcano in full, sustained eruption – 16 goals in 13 appearances for club and country already this season to add to last term’s absurd 56 in 50 – makes perhaps the strongest counter case there is.

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The Pole is one of only two players – the insatiable Ronaldo the other – to have scored more Champions League goals than Salah over the past five seasons.

Erling Haaland lurks on the brink of the conversation, a Norwegian of thrilling potential awaiting a calling to one of the game’s higher powers.

Neymar can deliver alchemy on tap when the mood takes hold, but his ceaseless theatrics might be irritating enough to elbow him from the very top end of the ballot.

Salah’s ceaseless detonations of brilliance, last week’s goal for the ages against Manchester City merely the latest flaming magma spat impressively into the sky, announces his candidacy with ever more coherence.

As a finisher – his 2020/21 return of a goal every 86.7 minutes is superior to the strike rate which yielded 44 goals in 2017/18 – he has few peers.

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Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates with team mate Neymar

Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates with team mate Neymar

Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates with team mate Neymar

His adhesive touch and fearless dribbling, the ball velcroed to his foot even as he surges to Mach 5, enable him to slalom to freedom in claustrophobic, phone-boxed dimensioned acreage.

One commentator described last week’s goal as a shrunk-down version of Diego Maradona’s defining strike – the one with the foot – against England in 1986.

Salah boasts pure speed, is deceptively strong, look at how he held off Manchester City’s bigger defenders in the initial stages of last week’s dazzling war-dance, and bursting with self-belief.

Criticism that his hunger for glory causes him to sometimes ignores better placed team-mates has some validity, but the manner in which he set the table for Sadio Mane last week offered a tantalising glimpse of his creative potential.

Anyway, the statistics contradict the thesis of a player consumed by his own need to score.

Salah has more combined goals and assists (137) than any other player in the Premier League since 2017-18. The chasing pack is led by Harry Kane (110), Jamie Vardy (101), Raheem Sterling (95), Son-Heung Min (97), Sadio Mane (86), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (81) and Sergio Aguero (86).

The former Roma striker has not only scored the most goals of that group, what is truly eye-catching is that his 36 assists is also the best in class, only Son’s 32 even close. Hardly the numbers of a mé-féiner.

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been on fire since his return to United

Cristiano Ronaldo has been on fire since his return to United

Cristiano Ronaldo has been on fire since his return to United

When Liverpool threatened to run aground last season, it was Salah’s 31 goals that set the ship back on an even keel. It is among the measures of greatness to perform even as the form of colleagues dips and diminishes.

Yet, acclaim has not always been free-flowing, even from The Kop.

Though he overtook the late Roger Hunt to become the fastest Liverpool player to reach 100 league goals, he has made fewer PFA teams of the year than Gary Cahill.

But the tide of opinion is turning. Great players require unforgettable masterworks and the goal against City was Michelangelo bringing the Sistine Chapel ceiling to beautiful, jaw-dropping life.

Salah is 29, at the peak of his powers, his surge of eight goals in his last seven goals (scoring in each) re-announcing Liverpool’s candidacy for the biggest prizes.

Pep Guardiola described him as “the best winger the Premier League has ever seen” in the wake of a wonder goal which had Jamie Carragher insisting he didn’t see “anyone playing better in the world at this moment in time”.

After a decade shifting between the blueblood heads of Messi and Ronaldo, the clamour grows to measure the Egyptian king for the game’s global crown.

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