If Liverpool go on to win their first league title in a generation this season, Mohamed Salah’s goal against Chelsea on Sunday will go down as iconic.
It’s was the sort of moment that will be looked back upon in an episode of Premier League Years as the point at which Jurgen Klopp’s started tying the ribbons on the trophy. The point at which they started to believe rather than just hope.
Indeed, it was a stunning strike from the Egyptian, arrowing the ball into the top corner of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal from 20 yards, giving the Spaniard no chance. In a season which, at times, has seen Salah struggle for top form, this was a reminder of his sheer brilliance and of how he can change a game in just a few seconds.
Acclamations were rightly made after the match, but reviews of Salah’s performance against Chelsea generally skipped over his dive in the first half. He wasn’t booked for it at the time.
In Sky Sports’ commentary, the incident, which saw the 26-year-old dramatically throw himself to the floor in an attempt to imply contact with David Luiz, was barely mentioned. Match of the Day highlighted it, but there wasn’t the condemnation that is almost always angled at divers.
And that is the appropriate term – Salah is a diver. The Egyptian now has a history of it, of melodramatically throwing himself to the floor in the opposition box. His dive against Chelsea certainly wasn’t a one off.
In fact, Salah has become the Premier League’s most consistent penalty box theatric over the past two seasons.
Some may point out that Salah’s brilliance gives him some leeway. That his frequency in conjuring up the astonishing, like the moment he produced against Chelsea on Sunday, gives him a longer length of rope than others. But, that argument doesn’t really hold up when considering the public wrath faced by other superstars.
Take Raheem Sterling, for instance. The Manchester City is a Player of the Year contender this season, yet he has long been a target for his propensity for flopping to the floor. Or Neymar, who despite being one of the best players on the planet has become a figure of hate and derision for diving one too many times.
This isn’t to say that Salah’s diving has never been highlighted before. The Egyptian performed a particularly dramatic flop to win Liverpool a penalty against Newcastle United on Boxing Day earlier this season, sparking widespread discussion over his diving habits, but the difference is that such debate does not define the Liverpool forward like it does other players.
To this writer, there can be a certain artfulness to diving. Pulling off the perfect sporting deception is not easy.
What’s more, as footballers get bigger and stronger in the modern age, the smaller, diminutive inventors have to find a way to level the playing field, or at least they did before the age of VAR.
Primarily, the stigma around diving is not of sporting integrity, but of masculinity.
Gary Lineker, for example, once raised the possibility that divers could be shown pink cards to shame them out of throwing themselves to the ground too easily. Alan Stubbs opted for the nationalist angle when shaming divers, alleged that “it’s a foreign thing” in an interview a few years ago.
However, diving is commonly viewed as a stain on the game, something that must be stamped out, if that is still possible. With this in mind, it’s peculiar that Salah isn’t more of a target.
Maybe it’s the smile with which he plays. Or the joyful abandon with which he fires pearler after pearler into the top corner.
Whatever it is, Salah gets away with diving when others are hammered for it.