Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has backed Liverpool star Mohamed Salah to lead a golden generation of Arab talent in the Premier League.
Salah has been in sensational form since his club-record switch from Roma in the summer, scoring seven and assisting two in 11 games across all competitions to banish memories of his nightmare Chelsea spell.
It’s not just at club level Salah has impressed, though, with his inspirational performances for Egypt guiding the Pharaohs to their first World Cup since 1990.
And despite the storied hostilities between the two clubs, ex Red Devil Ferdinand believes Salah will spearhead a spike of Arab players in England’s top flight.
“I think Salah has been a revelation since he’s come,” said Ferdinand at the launch of the Dubai Fitness Challenge.
“But what I like about Salah is that he came with Chelsea, didn’t succeed, but went away, worked, came back and now you can see the benefit of working hard and having a strong mentality.
“I think that’s great, and I think that’s a great inspiration for this region to show the players that you can succeed even when you get a knock back.
“Take a step back then come again.”
There are currently 10 Arab players (representing Arab countries) in the Premier League with Salah joined by the likes of Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny, Leicester flyer Riyad Mahrez and Southampton striker Sofiane Boufal.
With their success stories that number could well swell in the coming years.
The prestigious Golden Boy award is down to the final three with PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus making up a talented trio.
With all three grounded in Europe’s elite, it’s probable we’ll see the youngsters vying for Ballon d’Or honours in the not-too-distant future.
But for now we take a look at which candidate deserves to take home the gong.
It’s a shame in the world of myopic stances that Ousmane Dembele got the injury when he did because the Barcelona winger was outstanding for Borussia Dortmund last season.
His achievements have been diminished by this season’s form of both Mbappe and Jesus but unlike the other two contenders, he was superb across the entirety of the previous campaign.
If you didn’t get the opportunity to watch him glide past Bundesliga defences last term, the statistics justify his inclusion in the top three.
The Frenchman managed a staggering 105 successful take-ons last season, trumping both Mbappe (27) and Jesus (10). When he beat his man, he delivered as well, providing an assist for Dortmund every 169 minutes, which was a better record than Neymar managed over 189 minutes for Barcelona.
Need more? He registered 12 assists, more than any other player aged 21 and under in Europe’s top-five leagues and displayed his unique dexterity by scoring and setting up goals with either foot – 11 goals right, 6 left, 10 assists left, 7 right in the league since 2015/16.
He’s still in the fledgling stage of his France career but has one goal in seven games – a beauty against England, a game in which both he and Mbappe tore Gareth Southgate’s side apart – and the same can be said of his club-record Barca move.
In Dembele’s fleeting minutes he showed glimpses of his quality to give the Catalan club some much needed natural width but he also showed that he required some adjusting to a new style of football, particularly with his passing under the microscope.
Still, he warrants his place among the top three but ultimately his injury absence has curtailed his ability to break beyond that.
Now, a look at the two who will contest the top spot. There are several equalisers when you compare the pair.
In Jesus’s favour is the fact he’s scored goals in a league which is usually regarded as the tougher. The 20-year-old has netted 13 times in 18 Premier League appearances and is breathing down the neck of Sergio Aguero.
It’s not just his South American counterpart he’s chasing down either because his six goals in eight mean he is on the shoulder of the league’s golden duo Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku.
But even at 20, it’s clear already the Brazilian is a rare breed of striker. He marries his ruthless accuracy in front of goal with intelligent movement on either side of the ball.
In City’s high-intensity press, his enthused defensive work has impressed and from last season to this, he’s transitioned from prospect to a proven commodity, his two goals in three Champions League games a credit to his development.
Granted, he’s disadvantaged by a combination of his inability to play in Europe last season and Mbappe’s exploits for Monaco in the Champions League – we’ll get to that later – but he’s been directly involved in 21 goals in 20 starts in all competitions for City (15 goals, 6 assists).
Domestically, his impact is undeniable, Europe is the drawback but how about internationally?
The counter to Mbappe’s Champions League form is Jesus’s growing importance for Brazil. Yes, Neymar is the undoubted star but since Tite took the charge the reliance on the former Barca flyer has diminished, the creative responsibility shared and embraced by Jesus.
As Selecao’s No9, leading a fluid 4-1-4-1, Jesus has spearheaded their resurrection which has many tipping them for triumph in Russia. He only debuted in September 2016 but ended the year as their top scorer with five goals in his first four internationals.
He’s since added a sixth and his remarkable rise on the international stage is a cornerstone argument for his Golden Boy claim.
Many corners of the football world have already crowned Mbappe but before he’s ordained there’s a few things to consider.
To start, age shouldn’t be a factor when you’re judging the Golden Boy. Mbappe is simply either better than Jesus or not.
We are, though, talking about two very unique talents. Mbappe has been likened to Thierry Henry but in truth it’s hard to pin down a comparison.
While he was produced by the same club, in the same position and at a similarly rapid rate, he boasts size, speed and skill, his long limbs seem to crawl across pitches rather than power past players.
His breakaways for Monaco last term and now PSG are breathtaking and if defenders do manage to get close to him, his remarkable dribbling ability ensures he slips away.
Physically gifted, technically talented and intelligent, too, it’s easy to see why he is a frontrunner.
And then the statistics further reinforce his claim. During Monaco’s ascension to Ligue 1 glory the 18-year-old scored 15 goals and added 8 assists, carrying that attacking thrust into the Champions League where he became the first player to net in each of his first four knockout games in the competition.
He’s broken another European record since moving to PSG as well, his eighth goal in just 12 games the latest in midweek ensuring he’s the highest scoring teenager in the comp’s history.
Delivering in the Champions League is a tremendous achievement and he’s shown development with the Paris giants as well.
Indeed, he has three assists and two goals in five games but his movement and link-up play with Edinson Cavani and Neymar from the right-wing spot has been staggeringly good.
All sweet, right? There is one drawback and that is internationally. He has one goal and one assist in eight games but has largely been more effective from the bench.
That’s probably more of an indictment of Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps who isn’t really quite sure what do with him using him through the middle and out wide.
Of course, that’s fastidious but then this is arguably one of the richest talent pools we’ve had for the Golden Boy award in recent years.
So, with everything laid on the table, who is the pick?
It’s clearly incredibly difficult but Jesus should be the winner. His form for club and country is outstanding, he’s already shown that translates onto the European stage and the fact he wasn’t registered by City is the only reason he hasn’t opportunity to score more in the Champions League.
It’s a case of Jesus’s combination of Premier League and Brazil versus Mbappe’s Ligue 1 and Champions League exploits. Difficult to choose but Jesus is our Golden Boy.
We take a look at the transfer gossip dominating the headlines on Saturday.
Let us know your thoughts.
Barcelona sporting director Robert Fernandez scouted Anthony Martial during Man United’s Champions League win over Benfica, according to Mundo Deportivo.
The news comes hot on the heels of rumours United would offer Martial in exchange for Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
Fernandez was a busy man last week as he apparently also watched Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen in action for Spurs against Real Madrid the night before.
Martial has been forced to share the left-forward spot with Marcus Rashford and a bid for more first-team could see him leave – whether that would change at Barca is another question entirely.
Barcelona are exploring the possibility of signing Athletic Bilbao defender Unai Nunez, according to Sport .
The 20-year-old has been in superb form so far this season and Barca are looking to bolster their backline in January, with Nunez a strong contender among their list of targets.
Barca have to start looking to the future and with Gerard Pique (30) and Javier Mascherano (33) into the final phase of their career, Nunez – a dynamic defender – is one who fits the bill.
Yerry Mina is set to arrive at Camp Nou next summer and with Marlon Santos in the mix, Samuel Umtiti a permanent fixture, adding Nunez would be see the defence solidified.
Liverpool will not allow James Milner to leave in January, according to the Mirror.
The versatile veteran has rarely been used from the start but showed his class in the 7-0 win over Maribor to reinforce Reds boss Jurgen Klopp’s reluctance to sell.
Who wouldn’t want James Milner in their squad? He’s been brought in from the left-back spot he inhabited last season into his familiar centre-midfield role but it’s a congested area for Liverpool which explains his lack of playing time.
Still, Klopp knows his qualities and there is every chance with Jordan Henderson’s inconsistent form he could see more minutes.