Johannesburg - When Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in three weeks, there will be more at stake than just the Champions League title.
As things stand, it will in most probability also be a direct shootout for this year’s Ballon d’Or, as Mohamed Salah is putting in a strong bid to break the Cristiano Ronaldo/Lionel Messi stronghold on the top individual footballing prize the two strikers have shared between them since 2008.
Salah, of course, plays for Liverpool, while Ronaldo, who is this season’s top scorer in the Champions League, earns part of his salary from Real Madrid.
The two are odds-on favourites to win the coveted prize, with Messi well behind them.
With little to choose between Ronaldo and Salah – for both the Champions League is the only chance of winning any silverware with their club, Salah has scored seven league goals more than the Portuguese international, but Ronaldo is five ahead in the Champions League – it could well be that the game in Kiev is what decides the award this year.
Salah has already picked up both the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year award for the 2017/18, which represent the highest individual footballing accolades a player can win in England.
The 25-year-old Egyptian started his professional career with the club for which he played as a youth player, El Mokawloon, before moving to Switzerland, where he signed for Basel.
A move to Chelsea followed, but after failing to feature in Jose Mourinho’s plans, he was first loaned to Fiorentina and then Roma, before making the move to Roma permanent.
Salah joined the Reds at the beginning of the season and has undoubtedly been Jürgen Klopp’s outstanding signing as the Egyptian international has been in outstanding form for Liverpool this season.
He was also the dominant player in the Egyptian national team as the Pharaohs secured a first World Cup participation since 1990, scoring five out of the eight goals in the group stage that took them to Russia, including the match-winning penalty five minutes into injury time against Congo.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, has not been having as successful a season as his fans are used to. What he has managed to do however, is turn out for the big games, especially in the Champions League knock-out stages.
His overhead goal against Juventus in the quarter-finals is considered one of the best goals that has been scored in the history of the competition, prompting even Juventus’ fans to applaud the Portuguese.
“It was a great goal, fantastic. I didn’t expect to score that goal. This is our competition. I love to play in the Champions League,” he said at the time.
Salah meanwhile, has downplayed the importance of the final being a game between Ronaldo and himself. “It is not going to be a final between Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I am playing for a great club and we have great players, so qualifying to the final came with great teamwork. I cannot do it alone – it is collective work. When we score a goal it’s because we are all doing good, when we concede it means we all need to work harder.”
When pressed after the game against Roma about the possibility of him winning the Ballon d’Or, he joked that his chances had been lessened as he had not scored for two games.
Asked by former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher whether that would mean he would be dropped for the final, the Egyptian countered: “I just keep some goals for the final!”
Should he manage to find the net in Kiev it could well be that Salah becomes the second African player to win the Ballon d’Or after Liberian George Weah, who won the top prize in 1995.