Why Salah was Klopp’s greatest general on the field

Juergen Klopp, right, celebrates with Mohamed Salah after his last match as Liverpool manager against the Wolverhampton Wanderers and his team won 2-0 on May 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Why Salah was Klopp’s greatest general on the field

  • No player contributed to the legendary German coach’s success at Liverpool more than the talismanic Egyptian

LIVERPOOL: When Napoleon Bonaparte was briefed on the virtues of a new general, he would apparently retort with “but is he lucky?”

Expertise was one thing, but the French emperor also understood the importance of happenstance.

In his nine years at Liverpool, which came to an emotional end on Sunday at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp has been blessed with many lucky generals.

The German’s reign is bookmarked, time and again, by getting the right man at the right time, and all played their part in a historic era for the club.

In the summer of 2016, Klopp’s debut at Anfield, Sadio Mane became the first of his new generals. Not far behind was Gini Wijnaldum and Andrew Robertson. All would go on to become pillars of his great Liverpool team.

Virgil van Dijk, in the winter of 2018, transformed Liverpool’s previously porous defense into one of the best in Europe, and even the world.

The Brazilian duo of Alisson Becker and Fabinho, in the summer of 2018, became the final pieces of the jigsaw. Klopp’s iconic team was complete.

But the greatest general of them all had arrived a year earlier. It is often forgotten now, considering what has transpired since, that when Mohamed Salah joined Liverpool from Roma in the summer of 2017, he was not considered by many pundits to be a “world class” player, whatever that means.

But from the moment he walked into Anfield, his fortunes and Klopp’s would become inextricably entwined.

At full time on Sunday following Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Wolves, as Klopp gave Salah one of his trademark hugs, both must have realized how lucky they were to have found each other seven years earlier.

Salah, it is no exaggeration to say, was more instrumental in bringing success to Liverpool than any other player during Klopp’s time at Anfield.

And those who know best, knew that too.

Three players have been accorded the honorary title of “King” by the Kop: Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and the boy from Nagrig.

Thousands of words have been written in recent weeks about Klopp’s reign, and since it would take a book to cover the records that Salah breaks, seemingly on a weekly basis, there is little point in reproducing the facts and figures of their time together.

Viscerally, it was all about the moments, many that flirted with footballing utopia, and a few that touched the depths of despair.

Salah scored on his debut in a 3-3 Premier League draw at Watford in the summer of 2017, and has not stopped since.

The “Egyptian King” quickly established a stunning forward partnership with Mane and Roberto Firmino — the “front three,” as they would become known.

There was the breathtaking “Road Runner” goal against Arsenal on Salah’s second Anfield start; the FIFA Puskas Award-winning curler against Everton in a December snowstorm; and an even better version of it against Tottenham in February.

In particular, Salah would develop a taste for torturing the preeminent team of the age, Pep Guardiola’s magnificent Manchester City.

In his first season alone, there was a memorable chipped goal in an era-launching 4-3 Premier League win at Anfield, and a tie-settling second at the Etihad as Liverpool beat City 2-1 (5-1 on aggregate) in the Champions League quarterfinals. He had scored in the first leg too.

One performance, however, continues to stand above all others.

On April 24, 2018, Salah delivered arguably his finest match for Liverpool in a 5-2 win against Roma at Anfield in the Champions League semifinal first leg.

Against future colleague Alisson in the opposition goal, Salah scored twice, assisted twice, and for 90 minutes tore the Italian team to shreds. He was simply unplayable. It was a display that Lionel Messi would have struggled to better.

The Champions League final a few weeks later would bring the lowest of Salah’s time at Liverpool as a shoulder injury saw him leave the pitch in tears after only 31 minutes. Without their talisman, Liverpool lost 3-1.

At the time, Klopp was turning a player that had a remarkable availability record — lucky one could say — and work ethic into one of the world’s best players, technically and tactically. Salah’s pressing of the opposition and positional sense when out of possession perfectly suited Klopp’s demands and complemented the forward’s unquenchable thirst for goals.

Salah’s second season saw player and team hit new highs as they accumulated a mind-boggling 97 points in the Premier League and, incredibly, still fell one short of Manchester City.

Salah still scored one of the great Anfield goals against Chelsea in a 2-0 win as they chased down the relentless leaders.

Even on the very rare occasion he missed a match, the world watched his every move. As Liverpool, almost incredulously, overturned a three-goal deficit against Barcelona to reach the 2019 Champions League final, the injured Salah sat on the bench in a T-shirt that said: “Never Give Up.” Sales skyrocketed.

A Champions League triumph in Madrid would prove more than a consolation for the Reds, Salah scoring the opener in a 2-0 win over Tottenham to give Liverpool their sixth title, a record for an English team, naturally.

Klopp had broken his duck at Liverpool and finally become a European champion after near misses with Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool in the previous six years.

Salah, meanwhile, was rewriting the record books with his goals, and the 2019/2020 season finally brought the Premier League that Liverpool fans craved.

A traumatized fan base had previously refused to sing about the elusive league title until one January evening at Anfield when Salah scored a goosebump-inducing stoppage time goal to seal a 2-0 over Manchester United at Anfield.

“We’re gonna win the league,” Anfield bellowed in celebration. After 30 years of disappointments and false dawns, they finally believed, and the Premier League would be secured in record time, though three matches after resumption of play following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The four years since have not brought a league or Champions League title, but other trophies (two League Cups and an FA Cup) followed, seemingly always at the expense of Chelsea.

On the pitch, as Klopp’s great team splintered, no one maintained their level of consistency and brilliance quite like Salah.

Goals of all types continued to flow including one solo effort, against Manchester City at Anfield, prompting many to call Salah the best player in the world during the 2021/2022 season.

While others suffered long-term injuries, lost form or left the club (especially Mane and Firmino), Salah remained as reliable as ever — always available, always scoring, always creating.

That he is a Liverpool all-time great is no longer up for debate.

This is why, when he had an uncharacteristic and public argument with Klopp on the touchline at West Ham recently, few fans took sides. The coach may be untouchable, but Salah had earned the right to be right up there with him. And that is the greatest compliment of all, for both men.

Ultimately, it all ended in hugs, smiles and a few tears on Sunday.

Klopp and Salah were lucky to have each other. And we were lucky to have them.


Netherlands start Euro 2024 campaign with 2-1 win over Poland

Updated 16 June 2024
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Netherlands start Euro 2024 campaign with 2-1 win over Poland

HAMBURG: Substitute Wout Weghorst snatched a late winner for the Netherlands in a 2-1 victory over Poland on Sunday in their opening Euro 2024 clash.

The Burnley striker, who burst into life at the 2022 World Cup, once again brought his best game to the big stage in Hamburg as Poland looked to have frustrated their opponents, despite injured striker Robert Lewandowski being unable to play.

The Barcelona striker’s replacement Adam Buksa, headed Poland in front after 16 minutes before Cody Gakpo levelled with a deflected effort at the Volksparkstadion.

Netherlands failed to convert further openings and Poland improved as the game seemed to be heading for a draw, before Weghorst intervened in the 83rd minute to delight his team’s fans.

Clad in their traditional vibrant orange, a sea of bouncing Dutch supporters took over the streets of Hamburg before the game, hoping for a second European Championship trophy.

Coach Ronald Koeman, in his second stint at the helm, won the tournament with the Oranje as a player in 1988.

The Netherlands, who performed strongly two years ago at the Qatar World Cup after failing to reach Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, came out of the blocks quickly. Despite lacking the star power of previous generations — the likes of Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie — their current trio of forward are dynamic.

Liverpool winger Gakpo took the creative reins alongside Memphis Depay and Xavi Simons, and tested Wojciech Szczesny with a low drive.

Midfielder Tijjani Reijnders steered a good chance narrowly wide before Michal Probierz’s Poland took the lead against the run of play with one of their first forays forward.

Separately, police shot and injured a man who threatened them with an axe and a Molotov cocktail ahead of a match in Hamburg. The incident triggered a “major operation” in the city’s St. Pauli district, police said on X, formerly Twitter.

“The attacker was injured and is currently receiving medical treatment,” they added.

According to a police spokesman, there was no indication that the incident was linked to the Euro 2024 clash between Poland and the Netherlands taking place later on Sunday.

The attacker “came out of a pub with a pickaxe and a Molotov cocktail and threatened the police,” the spokesman said, adding that the suspect was shot in the leg.

The incident took place near the Reeperbahn station, more than a kilometer away from the city’s official fan zone.

Meanwhile, Scotland manager Steve Clarke said Sunday that he had to “kick a couple of backsides” and “give a couple of cuddles” after his side’s humiliating 5-1 defeat to Germany to open Euro 2024.

Clarke accepted responsibility for a failed tactical plan as the host nation ran riot against the 10-man Scots in Munich on Friday night.

“I’ve spoken to the players about what I feel was wrong from my side and what I gave them,” Clarke told reporters.

“I think their interpretation of what we asked them to do was wrong, so we’ve worked on that.

“I had a little chat with a lot of them on the training pitch this morning. Just to try to put one or two things in their head about things they maybe didn’t do on the pitch that they should have done.”

Scotland have never made it out of the group stage at a major tournament in 11 attempts.


Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

Updated 16 June 2024
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Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

  • Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying

DORTMUND, Germany: Italy recovered from conceding the fastest goal in the competition’s history to get their defense of the European Championship title off to a winning start on Saturday as they came back to beat Albania 2-1 in front of a partisan crowd.
Nedim Bajrami stunned the Italians and delighted a huge Albanian support in Dortmund as he smashed in the opener after just 23 seconds, his strike pulverising the previous record for the quickest goal at the Euros of 67 seconds by Dmitri Kirichenko of Russia in 2004.
Yet Italy’s response to falling behind was quick too, as Alessandro Bastoni headed the Azzurri level on 11 minutes and Nicolo Barella’s glorious effort put them ahead just past the quarter-hour mark.
From then on Luciano Spalletti’s team looked much more assured, although they really should have won by a greater margin rather than face an anxious finale as Albania pushed for an equalizer.
Their performance — the first 23 seconds apart — was largely encouraging before an enticing showdown with fellow heavyweights Spain in nearby Gelsenkirchen next Thursday.
Whatever happens in that match, Italy are already well-placed to advance to the knockout phase of Euro 2024 from Group B, in which Spain defeated Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday in Berlin.
Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying.
Only five of Italy’s line-up at kick-off here started the final of the last Euros three years ago, with a new-look team featuring Bologna center-back Riccardo Calafiori winning just his third cap.
Albania, though, are appearing at just their second major tournament having also gone to Euro 2016.
The novelty of the experience for them helps explain why the home of Borussia Dortmund was a sea of excitable Albanian fans decked in red and black who made up the vast majority of the crowd.
They could hardly believe it when their team, coached by the Brazilian former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back Sylvinho, opened the scoring almost straight from kick-off.
Italy’s Federico Dimarco took a throw from the left-back position but played it loosely back into his own box. Bastoni was caught on the back foot, and Bajrami — who plays in Italy for Sassuolo — pounced to control and fire past Gianluigi Donnarumma at the goalkeeper’s near post.
It was a similar start to Italy’s last European Championship match, when Luke Shaw put England ahead inside two minutes in the final at Wembley in 2021 before the Azzurri came back to win on penalties.
This time they drew level when Dimarco and Lorenzo Pellegrini played a short corner routine on the left before the latter crossed for Inter Milan center-back Bastoni to head in at the back post.
Italy had regained their composure and soon went in front on 16 minutes, a Jasir Asani clearance dropping straight to another Inter player in Barella, who made the cleanest of contacts at the edge of the area to send a first-time shot past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
They should have added to their lead before the interval, with Davide Frattesi hitting the post after meeting a lovely reverse pass by Gianluca Scamacca in the box.
Scamacca was then denied by Strakosha, while Fedrico Chiesa curled a shot just wide on the hour mark.
Italy then sat back, but Albania did not manage another attempt on target and the second-lowest ranked nation in the competition could not find an equalizer despite their best efforts late on.
Substitute Rey Manaj came closest after getting in behind in the 90th minute, but he could not beat Donnarumma.


Netherlands and Poland denied training on new Hamburg stadium field ahead of Euro 2024 game

Updated 15 June 2024
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Netherlands and Poland denied training on new Hamburg stadium field ahead of Euro 2024 game

  • “We are not allowed to train here either, because of the bad quality of the pitch,” Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said
  • UEFA insisted in a statement the surface “is in good condition and in order to preserve its quality the official (training) will take place at the respective team base camp”

HAMBURG: The newly laid field in the Hamburg stadium was off limits to the Netherlands and Poland on Saturday, one day before their opening game at the European Championship.
A new grass surface was ordered at Volksparkstadion after host club Hamburger completed their home fixtures on May 19 in the Bundesliga second tier.
Four weeks later, UEFA wanted to protect it from the teams’ traditional eve-of-game practice before the stadium hosts its first game at Euro 2024. Hamburg is due to stage five games including one quarterfinal.
“We are not allowed to train here either, because of the bad quality of the pitch,” Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said at the venue where the teams kick off on Sunday at 3 p.m. local time (1300 GMT).
UEFA insisted in a statement the surface “is in good condition and in order to preserve its quality the official (training) will take place at the respective team base camp.”
Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk suggested the field was similar to the one in Frankfurt where the Oranje lost to Germany 2-1 in a March friendly.
“It’s not very good but both teams have to face it,” said Van Dijk, a couple of hours after Poland captain Piotr Zieliński suggested, “It doesn’t look that bad.”
UEFA seeks to give national teams the best possible playing surfaces at its showpiece tournament and often installs new fields at stadiums and training camps. It has replacements on standby if an entire playing field needs to be relaid during the monthlong tournament.
Switzerland made a formal complaint to UEFA this week about the training camp surface it was given near Stuttgart, though on Saturday it did not seem to have harmed the team’s preparation. The slick Swiss beat Hungary 3-1 in their opening game.


England have earned right to be Euro 2024 favorites: Kane

Updated 15 June 2024
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England have earned right to be Euro 2024 favorites: Kane

  • “Every tournament poses different expectations but we’ve earned the right to be classed as one of the favorites,” Kane said
  • “We’re here to win ultimately and there will be nothing better than to do that for the nation”

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: England captain Harry Kane said the Three Lions “are here to win” Euro 2024 in Germany as they aim to live up to the tag of pre-tournament favorites in their opening game against Serbia on Sunday.
Under manager Gareth Southgate, England have come close to ending a 58-year drought to win a major tournament on three occasions without getting over the line.
Kane won the Golden Boot as Southgate’s men bowed out to Croatia at the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and then missed a crucial late penalty in a quarter-final exit to France four years later.
But it was on home soil at the last European Championship that England came closest to glory under Southgate as they lost the final on penalties to Italy at Wembley.
Since then, the development of Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka has helped form a fearsome attacking arsenal alongside Bayern Munich striker Kane.
Between them the quartet scored 114 goals for their club sides this season.
“Every tournament poses different expectations but we’ve earned the right to be classed as one of the favorites,” Kane told a pre-match press conference in Gelsenkirchen.
“We’re here to win ultimately and there will be nothing better than to do that for the nation.
“There’s a lot of top teams and tomorrow night is our focus. We know how tough it was to get to the final last time.
“We’re going to have to do that again and even more if we want to do that again and hopefully one step further.”
Southgate, though, warned his side will have to be “exceptional” to beat Europe’s best.
Germany crushed Scotland 5-1 to open the tournament in style on Friday, while Spain swept aside Croatia 3-0 on Saturday with three first-half goals.
England are expected to cruise through a group also containing Denmark and Slovenia.
But Southgate has stressed the importance of taking one step at a time on what he has speculated could well be his final tournament in charge.
“You’ve seen Germany play the way they did last night, Spain in the first half today. There are a lot of good teams in this tournament. We have to be exceptional to progress through the group and have the opportunity to go further,” said Southgate.
“Our focus is to qualify from the group. When you’re trying to achieve exceptional things you have to break it down into chunks. Our first priority is to get through the group and work from there.”
A heartbreaking defeat to Italy in the final three years ago compounded a damaging night for English football.
Thousands of ticketless fans stormed the turnstiles and disabled entrances of Wembley in ugly scenes that marred the final.
German police have labelled Sunday’s fixture “high risk,” with only reduced-strength beer available to fans at Schalke’s home stadium.
Southgate called on the tens of thousands that will travel from England for the match to enjoy themselves responsibly.
“I expect everyone to enjoy the football,” he added.
“I’ve been fortunate to travel to a lot of football tournaments and they’re great carnivals and great chances to meet people from different parts of the world.
“The whole of Europe can come together and support their team and get behind their team.”


Eriksen keen to look forward after Euro 2020 trauma

Updated 15 June 2024
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Eriksen keen to look forward after Euro 2020 trauma

  • He eventually resumed his career after being fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, making his return to international duty nine months later
  • “For me personally, everything more than one game is improvement, but it’s been a goal since the beginning to come back to this level,” Eriksen said

STUTTGART, Germany: Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen said his traumatic collapse in his team’s opening game of Euro 2020 is not a moment he regularly thinks about as he prepares to make his first appearance at the tournament since.
Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest three years ago and had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator in front of a stunned Copenhagen crowd during a 1-0 loss to Finland.
He eventually resumed his career after being fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, making his return to international duty nine months later.
The Manchester United midfielder played for Denmark at the 2022 World Cup and is in line to start their Euro 2024 opener against Slovenia in Stuttgart on Sunday.
“For me personally, everything more than one game is improvement, but it’s been a goal since the beginning to come back to this level,” the 32-year-old Eriksen told reporters on Saturday.
“It’s been three years; a lot of things have happened in the meantime and so honestly I don’t think about it on a daily basis.
“It’s not something I overthink. I’m just looking forward to playing football and I think about the positives.”
The shocking incident further united a close group as the Danes reached the semifinals of Euro 2020 before losing 2-1 to England after extra time at Wembley.
Denmark will face England again in Group C this time along with Serbia.
“I think those are great memories and of course it started very negative and very pessimistic but later on everything got more optimistic and we got more free,” said Eriksen, capped 130 times by Denmark.
“But it’s been a lot of years since then and we’re just going to focus on the games now.”
Rasmus Hojlund’s seven goals in qualifying helped Denmark top their section above Slovenia on head-to-head record, but the Manchester United striker has scored only once in his past eight internationals.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand played down any concerns over the youngster’s lack of recent goals for his country.
“It comes in phases. Sometimes you have this period where you score a lot of goals,” said Hjulmand.
“But thankfully Rasmus always makes a big impression in every game. He’s dangerous and he’s fully motivated but he always makes a difference, which is the most important thing.
“The goals will come and sometimes you’re gonna have to fight more for the goals and other times they’re just gonna go in every time you kick.”
Benjamin Sesko, who earlier this week extended his RB Leipzig contract until 2029, will be the main threat Denmark must try to neutralize.
The highly-rated 21-year-old led Slovenia with five goals in qualifying and finished his first Bundesliga season with 14 goals in 31 games.
“Sesko is very fast and he has a great left foot. It’s a player we know and it’s a player we’ve analyzed a lot because he is significant for Slovenia,” said Hjulmand.
“Sesko is a big star and a young attacker. We are ready for him.”