As Egyptian international Mohamed Salah has discovered, it’s far from easy to make an impression at Chelsea.
After helping inflict shock defeats on the Blues in the Champions League group stage last season with goals in each game, the then-Basel winger was one of the hottest properties in Europe entering the winter transfer window, with a host of clubs said to have been chasing his signature.
Eventually sealing an £11 million switch to Stamford Bridge in late-January, where fans were now all too aware of his talents, expectations were high for Salah in the final third of the season and, while he didn’t quite dazzle, his performances were far from discouraging.
While recording only two goals and an assist in 10 league games, the 22-year-old midfielder showed clear glimpses of his potential, with his blistering pace and skill suggesting that a bright future in west London was ahead.
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Fast forward six months, however, and Salah finds himself stuck behind the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian in the pecking order and, according to reports, heading for the exit door before even completing a full season in England.
Having made just five total appearances this term, the man who was originally hailed as Juan Mata’s replacement earned a rare start in last month’s Capital One Cup win at Shrewsbury Town, but his inconsistent showing prompted criticism from Jose Mourinho.
Now with rumours of a move to Inter Milan or Besiktas, Salah’s chances of saving his Chelsea career look bleak at this point, but one can’t help but feel the club would be making a mistake in giving up on him so soon.
After all, the former Swiss Super League star has proven his talents against Europe’s elite, as well as in Premier League cameos, and Mourinho even acknowledged his promise upon landing his signature ahead of then-title rivals Liverpool.
“I helped young players, talented players, to be better,” he said. “People like Ozil, like Willian... talented players like Oscar, Robben, players I've had with similar qualities and talents. I tried to help.
“He trusts me and I'm happy to have him. I know also what he means for his country and his continent.
“I know he has in his mind to become a great player not just in top European football but to be a top player for his country, history and continent, to try and win individual awards at this level. Salah has some experience in Europe, so he's not a naïve boy arriving in the jungle.’’
With such high praise, it seems strange that Salah has not received more opportunities to show his worth thus far, but instead looks to be following the same path as former Blues prospect Kevin De Bruyne, who, after failing to make the breakthrough, is now starring in Germany with Wolfsburg, leaving fans to question whether his sale was premature.
One man who certainly knows him better than most is his ex-national team manager Bob Bradley who, having coached the Pharaohs from 2011 to 2013, revealed just last month that he had talked to Mourinho about giving the 33-times capped talisman time to establish himself in England.
“I talked to Mourinho about Mohamed Salah and he told me that he is a good player and that Chelsea is the right place for him to be. He added that he needs to be patient and that he wants him at Chelsea,” Bradley said, as quoted in an interview with Al-Ahram Al-Riyadi.
“When your coach is Jose Mourinho and he says strong words about you, you should be patient. You could leave for another team but you should stay at Chelsea and learn from this coach.
“People should also back Salah because he is facing a big challenge of imposing himself at Chelsea. They shouldn’t always make him feel bad about not playing a lot but instead support him in order to grab his chance when it comes.”
Recent reports suggest Mourinho has changed his tune since but, if not, then providing Salah with more first-team chances moving forward remains the best method to learn whether he is up to the task of competing for a regular spot in the club’s star-studded line-up.
If the Portuguese boss wants to prove his ability to nurture up-and-coming talent then here lies the perfect opportunity for him.