On Sunday, Frank Lampard will be requiring his team to keep under control a Liverpool forward who was a team-mate of our current boss when they were both players at Chelsea together.
Lampard’s and Salah’s careers overlapped for half-a-season at Stamford Bridge after the Egyptian signed in January 2014. Lampard left the following summer and Salah followed midway through the next season, initially on loan in Italy followed by a permanent move. He was 22 when he played his 19th and final Chelsea game.
With Salah having since returned to England and proven himself to be a world-class performer, and with Lampard quickly gaining a reputation as one who will give young players a chance if he sees the talent there, he has considered the question of whether Salah would have established himself at Chelsea had he been coming through in the current age.
‘It is hard to answer because you can never directly compare players from a different generation or era,’ Lampard begins. ‘It is hard because everyone has their own pathways.
‘Unfortunately for Mo it did not work out here but great credit to him, he went to Italy and then came back and now he is a superstar. That is his path and it is hard to compare with what might have been in different circumstances.
‘The talent was obviously there but at that time we had a lot of options in attacking areas – wingers, no.10s and striker-type players and he did not get many opportunities for whatever reason. To become the player who came back to Liverpool, that is where huge credit is due and you don’t have to go searching any further than Mo himself for that, to say what professionalism, what work ethic.
‘To leave a club like Chelsea is not easy because people will then cast you aside as you did not make it here. To go and prove himself and be the superstar he is now is complete credit to Mo himself.’
On the wider question of whether the environment is better now for young talent to fulfil itself without needing to move away from Chelsea, Lampard says:
‘All I can try to do is do the best here. Can we get results and play well and individually within that, can we have players, and particularly young players, who are maturing and improving all the time? I just try to set that up as I see it and the rest is down to them.’
Salah and his team-mate in the Liverpool attack, Sadio Mane, were recently involved in an altercation at Burnley when one did not pass to the other. It is an incident that has Lampard recalling one disagreement in particular from his Chelsea days.
‘They are both in the right,’ he says of who behaved correctly among the Liverpool pair.
‘They are competitive lads. I played with players who demanded the ball to their feet when I shot and vice versa, I demanded they passed to me when they shot. That edginess about football, that professional competition amongst the group is good as long as it does not overstep the mark, and that is probably the job of the manager.
‘They both want to score goals, they are hungry, they are competitive, they want to be winners and when they play like they do, that is the answer. If they are not playing well enough and not performing, and you see that kind of thing going on then the manager would maybe ask many more questions, but these boys are really driven and I like it.’
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is the player with whom Lampard remembers his argument in 2002 near the start of his Chelsea career.
‘I remember being in the dressing room with him after I scored at Southampton and he complained that I had not passed to him in the game and I should have passed to him at a different moment from when I scored my goal. He was saying you scored one, you are just trying to score another one and not pass to me – and this from the man who shot 20 times a game!
‘But that was Jimmy and it is what football is about. It is different personalities, and strikers have to have an element of selfishness about them. I had it as a midfield player, I wanted to be good individually and I wanted to be part of a winning team, and you can’t have a perfect ambience around a team all the time. It is good for players to test each other.
‘Jimmy probably ignored me for a couple of days and we probably spoke again after that,’ our manager tries to recall. ‘There was no big issue but I remember it and as you get older you respect him for it, and that made Jimmy the force he was at the time too.’