Mo Salah, mo’ karma
It’s a quirk of modern top-class English football that so few elite teams have a left winger wearing the number 11 shirt.
In England, left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko is Manchester City’s 11; Chelsea’s Timo Werner is best as a centre-forward; Mason Greenwood functions best on the right for Manchester United; Erik Lamela could play there for Spurs but favours the centre; and so does Arsenal loan signing Martin Ødegaard – the Norwegian replaced Lucas Torreira, who is a defensive midfielder. Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins is a number 9 wearing 11, leaving Leicester City’s Marc Albrighton and Dwight McNeil of Burnley as outliers.
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool is another 11 who doesn’t fit the traditional profile, but at Anfield that’s not strange. During the Reds’ heyday from the 1970s-90s, 11 was often worn by a central midfielder. While the Egyptian does favour the wing, it is on the right-had side that he is stationed.
When Salah signed for the Liverpool in the summer of 2017, it was after two seasons where he had impressed wearing number 11 for Roma and he was keen to continue in that vein for his new club. However, the one stumbling block was the fact that Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino had worn 11 since arriving from Hoffenheim two years previously.
However, Firmino had often been used by Jürgen Klopp as the focal point of the Liverpool attack during 2014-15 and, with Christian Benteke having left Anfield, the way was clear for him to move to number 9, freeing up 11 for Salah. The move replicated that of Robbie Fowler in the summer of 2006, while Nicolas Anelka at Arsenal in 1997 had also switched from 11 to 9. Two years after Firmino did it, Anthony Martial at Manchester United and Burnley’s Chris Wood would both do the same thing.
Firmino offered to personally sign any 2017-18 number 11 shirts with his name on them, while for Salah, it was something of a karmic payback in terms of squad numbers, going back to his Chelsea days.
In the summer of 2014, Didier Drogba returned to Stamford Bridge, two years after he had joined Galatasaray from Chelsea. The Ivorian striker also had a preference for number 11 but at the time it was held by Oscar and so Drogba opted for 15, which he had worn for two seasons after first signing for the Pensioners from Olympique de Marseille back in 2004.
At the time, the Chelsea number 15 shirt was worn by none other than Mohamed Salah, who had signed from Basel (where he wore number 22) in January of 2014 but, whether he agreed to change or was told he had to, he moved to the number 17 for the 2014-15 campaign.
Then, shortly before the start of the season, it was announced that Brazilian midfielder Oscar would be moving to the number 8 vacated by Frank Lampard, allowing Drogba to have 11. Salah was forgotten in all of this and wore 17 for the first half of the season, with 15 left empty.
He joined Fiorentina on loan in January 2015, and opted for 74 there – not because seven and four add up to 11, but in tribute to those who died in the Port Said Stadium disaster.
A good stint in Florence led to the move to Rome on a permanent transfer from Chelsea, with Pedro taking over the Blues’ number 17 shirt from 2015-16. Salah has worn number 11 since then – to great effect, it must be said.