Mohamed Salah’s Champions League final motivation was summed up in a six-word tweet posted moments after Real Madrid completed a dramatic resurrection against Manchester City to set up a meeting in Paris.
“We have a score to settle,” announced Salah, a superstar of few words but barely able to conceal the hint of menace in his message to the team responsible for the worst night of his Liverpool career.
When Liverpool meet Real Madrid in the Stade de France on Saturday, memories of a balmy May evening in Kyiv four years ago – when Jurgen Klopp’s side were beaten 3-1 – will be painfully revived for Salah.
That night in Ukraine contained many striking images, from the sight of Liverpool keeper Loris Karius alone and in tears at the final whistle after his calamitous performance gifted Real two goals, to the acrobatic bicycle kick from Gareth Bale to put Real on the path to victory.
But for Liverpool, it was the sight of a tearful Salah receiving a consoling pat from Cristiano Ronaldo as he walked off heartbroken after only 30 minutes, following a mischievous tangle with Real’s enforcer-in-chief Sergio Ramos that encapsulated the agony.
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Ramos, of course, pleaded his innocence but Salah and Liverpool will never sway from the belief he was targeted by a master of the defensive dark arts, a challenge and fall that caused serious damage to Salah’s shoulder, forcing his early departure.
Liverpool manager Klopp was measured as he said: “I don’t believe in revenge or think revenge is a fantastic idea. I understand what Mo said. He wants to put it right, but in Germany we say you always meet twice in life.”
Klopp’s words somewhat overlook the fact that he and Salah actually met Real Madrid again and came out on the wrong end of a 3-1 aggregate score in last season’s quarter-final. However, those games were staged in surreal atmospheres behind closed doors.
This is different. This is the Champions League final and there can be no question that Salah will be, as he said himself, “very motivated – motivated through the roof”.
Klopp may play down talk of revenge, but Salah’s tweet told the tale. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Salah wants to pluck something right from the bottom of the deep freeze for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
And this is a much more powerful and rounded Liverpool than the side overcome by Real Madrid following Salah’s injury and rare managerial mis-step from Klopp, who paid a heavy price for keeping faith with a goalkeeper in Karius who was nowhere near the required standard.
Salah was having a stellar first season at Liverpool with 44 goals in 51 games before that 2018 final. When he went off he was replaced by Adam Lallana, who had only made 14 appearances and played 395 minutes without scoring a goal that season.
This is no slight on Lallana, merely confirmation that Klopp was juggling limited resources last time the Reds met Real in the Champions League final. Now he has vast riches at his disposal.
Klopp would never want to lose Salah, although the FA Cup was won against Chelsea after he suffered a first-half injury. Liverpool now have a dazzling array of attacking options should problems arise.
As well as Salah, Liverpool have the tried and trusted Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, as well as free-scoring Diogo Jota plus the explosive Colombian Luis Diaz, a transformative January signing from Porto.
Salah is still Liverpool’s main man when it comes to goals, with 31 goals in 50 appearances this season, and Saturday is the chance for Liverpool, not just the Anfield idol known as ‘The Egyptian King’, to set the record straight.
Stade de France was bathed in warm sunshine and heavy humidity on Thursday afternoon as the pageantry was being planned and the final touches put in place for Europe’s biggest club occasion, which will have Salah as one of its star turns.
The teams arrive on Friday, when Klopp and Ancelotti, seeking a record fourth Champions League win as a manager, will face the media, and Liverpool and Real will train on a surface that was still being worked on throughout Thursday.
Klopp’s playing down of the revenge motive may well have been a psychological ploy to stop Salah taking too much on his own shoulders, trying too hard when his side have enough weaponry to go around.
Salah has dominated the build-up to this showpiece and, as Liverpool fans started to arrive in the French capital on Thursday, pouring off Eurostar at Gare du Nord, the 29-year-old’s name and image were very much in evidence.
It is not just that Salah is clearly intent on writing a redemption story, the sub-plot also features his own long-term future at Anfield.
The new contract Liverpool want Salah to commit to remains unsigned and while his declaration that he will be at Anfield “for sure” next season is a short-term lift, it does not clarify whether he will commit to the club. Indeed, it only adds to the possibility he could walk away for free in 12 months’ time. Salah certainly holds all the cards.
But this, for now, is a side issue.
The main priority is Saturday in the swirling bowl of Stade de France.
Salah has waited four years since he sat in a Kyiv hospital, helpless and in agony, as Liverpool suffered that agonising defeat. The tweet once the date with Real Madrid was set in the diary was concrete evidence of just how much this means to him.
Liverpool’s dream of a historic quadruple is over after Manchester City’s miraculous five minutes against Aston Villa clinched the Premier League on the final day of the season, but the Champions League can still complete a magnificent treble trophy haul with the EFL Cup and FA Cup already safely pocketed.
And no-one in the Stade de France will be more determined to make that happen than Mohamed Salah, a man on a mission that has been four years in the making.
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