While Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool faithful will rue his potential absence, the prolific attacker ought to revel in possibly making history
Odd as it sounds, many will consider this year’s Olympics a distraction.
The mere mention of that ought to get a rise out of observers who look forward to the quadrennial Games. This year’s sporting event should have held last year but was postponed owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and it’s a relief that the multi-sport event will commence in July.
Football has always carried significance at the competition, having been in place in all but two years—1896 and 1932. Africa has recorded success twice in the men’s football tournament with Nigeria and Cameroon triumphing in Atlanta and Sydney respectively.
However, the continent has been without a Gold medal since a talented group containing Samuel Eto’o, Patrick M’Boma, Geremi and Lauren — who formed the Indomitable Lions’ Golden Generation — came from 2-0 down against Spain to win on penalties.
That drought has prompted Egypt’s inclusion of Mohamed Salah in their squad as one of two overage players in Tokyo, but Liverpool’s unwillingness and, for lack of a better word, passive-aggressiveness has been a worry.
From the Reds’ perspective, you totally understand why Jurgen Klopp will be against his star player featuring at the Games.
Having had a nightmare campaign in 2020/21 blighted with several injuries to key players, the German’s biggest summer desire may have been adequate rest for key players, especially after a daunting season.
With many Liverpool players already participating at the ongoing European Championship and Copa America, throwing the Olympics into the mix is inappropriate for pre-season preparations.
When you consider that the Merseyside giants will also be without the Egyptian, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita in mid-season due to the Africa Cup of Nations, the club’s unvoiced irritation may be comprehended.
Given next season’s desire to wrest the title from Manchester City, Klopp and his team will see the Olympics and Afcon 2021 as inconveniences.
Having voiced his displeasure at the North African’s potential involvement in January last year, even before the pandemic caused unprecedented disruptions, it’ll be surprising if the passionate manager’s stance has changed.
Be that as it may, some may reckon Salah isn’t doing enough to ensure his participation for Egypt in Tokyo.
Ahmed Megahed, interim boss of the Egyptian Football Association, believes the Liverpool star wants to play at the Games, but truly the forward’s position has, by and large, only been assumed.
“We sent a message to Liverpool management to announce our willingness to call Salah to Tokyo, they replied saying that they will discuss the situation with the player,” Megahed told Egyptian television station MBC MASR last week. “I can say that Salah wants to play at the Olympic Games, he wants to help Egypt, and I hope Liverpool will say yes.”
Ardent supporters will wish the two-time African Footballer of the Year pushes to feature, although this may never happen. Mikel John Obi famously did all he could to represent Nigeria in Rio in 2016, much to the displeasure of then-Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte.
The incident cost Mikel his Stamford Bridge career, but the midfielder has no regrets and is pleased he fulfilled ‘a dream’ five years ago.
“I had been called up by my national team to play and it was a dream,” Mikel told The Athletic in March. “It’s a dream for anyone to go to the Olympics.
“Yes, as players we want to win the Champions League and the World Cup, but the Olympics is a massive tournament.
“[Antonio Conte] who had just walked in the door for five minutes was telling me I had to choose. I spoke to the club and told them that I wanted to go.”
Mikel’s self-sacrifice before and during the competition will forever live long in the memory and, ironically, produced Nigeria’s only medal at the Games. Even though it was Bronze, it was greatly worth its weight in gold.
While Salah’s relative silence shouldn’t lead to his patriotism being questioned, it has unwittingly opened the door to what many will consider disrespect by Liverpool to the North African nation.
Egypt U23 coach Shawky Gharib still remains uncertain about the country’s biggest player’s involvement a month to their first game against Spain on July 22. This is frustratingly far from ideal.
“We haven’t received a definitive response from Liverpool regarding Salah’s participation in the Olympics,” Gharib told El Mehwar TV in mid-June per Kingfut. “The EFA have not informed us that our request was rejected either.
“When a new development takes place, we will be officially informed directly.”
Frankly, the player’s silence has been a tad disappointing and has led to the unclear situation with a month to go.
Whether he chooses to feature or otherwise remains to be seen, but it’s certain that an Egypt side with the Liverpool star in it definitely has a higher chance of ending Africa’s 20-year gold medal drought at the Games.