Johannesburg - When Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur meet at Anfield on Sunday afternoon, an equal amount of attention will be paid to the day’s drama as the future of two of football’s most exciting stars: Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane.
With the curtain slowly coming down on the almost decade-long Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi rivalry, talk is now turning to what the next generation’s contest will be.
Will it be a duel, as the current one is, or a more democratic rivalry involving a handful of superstars? Whichever it is, 25-year-old Liverpool forward Salah and his 24-year-old Spurs counterpart Kane will be in the mix.
Incontrovertible proof that the two men will be at the centre of the football galaxy is the fact that big spenders Real Madrid are dangling the gold vault in front of Liverpool and Spurs to secure their services. Madrid are looking beyond the Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale era, and also want to build the next wave of Galacticos.
It was reported this week that Madrid were so desperate to land Kane in particular that they were prepared to offer €200 million (R3.4 billion) for him.
Salah was said to be under subtle pressure from elements in the Egyptian football establishment to make the move to the more prestigious Spanish club as it would be perceived as a badge of honour for the country.
Kane and Salah are also chasing the best player and top goal-scorer awards at the end of the season.
Spurs and Liverpool have not done well in bringing home the individual honours and this time their legions of supporters will be hoping that one of their own will make them walk tall.
Kane leads the English Premier League’s goal-scoring table with 21 under his belt, followed closely by Salah, who has found the back of the net 19 times. Seeing as the clashes between these two teams usually result in a number of goals, expect these two players to open the gap on third-placed Sergio Aguero, who has 17 goals, and fourth-placed Raheem Sterling, who has 14.
Kane and Salah also carry the heavy burden of being their nations’ hopes of progressing to the competitive stages of the World Cup in Russia. Salah’s five goals and two assists were pivotal to Egypt qualifying for the first time in 28 years. English fans will be hoping that Kane, who bagged six goals during the qualifiers, will carry his club to Russia and make them serious challengers rather than continue the tradition of being grateful to reach the last eight.
But enough about what this game means for the two individuals. The important thing is what it means for the fortunes of the resurgent powers of English football.
Spurs spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s outside the elite bracket, doing just enough to scrape into the Europa League. In recent years, the north Londoners have successfully pushed to be considered as a proper top four team. Tuesday and Wednesday night football on the European mainland has now come to be something Spurs supporters expect in the same way a Teazers dancer anticipates bank notes in her lacy underwear.
It is now Liverpool who find themselves being mentioned in the same breath as onlookers such as Everton and West Ham. This has changed since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp in 2015.
Before this weekend’s fixtures Liverpool were third on the log, two places and two points ahead of fifth-placed Spurs. A win for Spurs will give them 51 points and put them one place and one point above Liverpool. A win for the Merseysiders will help them keep up with the inconsistent second-placed Manchester United.
In the first round outing at Wembley in October, Spurs pulverised Liverpool and won 4-1. Kane scored a brace in that game and Salah provided the solitary response from Liverpool.
Some may argue that the abundance of talent and fine form on both sides will be crucial on Sunday afternoon. This may be true, but it is the two men who are in Madrid’s sights who will make the difference.