Viola fan George Rinaldi was completely underwhelmed by the swap deal that sent Salah to the Serie A in place of Cuadrado. But here he admits the Egyptian forward has won him over . . .
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I was wrong. Yes, for once I will actually admit it. When Juan Cuadrado left Fiorentina I was pretty disappointed. We had lost a player who could not only score and assist at one end of the pitch, but defend resolutely at the other. The Colombian had joined the likes of Stevan Jovetic and Matija Nastasic in leaving the Viola for England.
I can’t say I was not expecting it following his superb showing at the 2014 World Cup as well as the past year-and-a-half in Serie A. I thought the sum of money for Cuadrado was acceptable, but the signing of Mo Salah on loan as part of the deal neither enthralled or particularly appealed to me. I shook off the signing as a nothing addition – a player to come on in the 70th minute to run about the pitch for a bit, but nothing more.
Salah made an underwhelming Viola debut in the 3-2 home victory over Atalanta in early February. The Egyptian came on in the 65th minute and, unsurprisingly, just ran quickly around the pitch. I felt a strange satisfaction watching this, as if my misgivings were justified. It was only his first game, though, and I would withhold expressing my disappointment to certain publications and fellow journalists for now. But I texted fellow Fiorentina fan and Italian football journalist Giancarlo Rinaldi (no relation), ‘This signing is a waste’.
The next game, away to Sassuolo, happened to fall on the day after my birthday. Salah scored in the 3-1 win – although, I confess, the memory’s a little hazy! But what was indisputable is that he was starting to shine. He scored the following week against Torino and then again versus Inter – securing Fiorentina’s first win against the Nerazzurri at the San Siro since 2000 – 13 games ago.
The week before he had scored the second to secure Viola’s victory over Tottenham in the Europa League, pouncing on a defensive error by Jan Vertonghen. Salah could not be stopped . . . and I was stunned. The 5’7” Egyptian was on fire and not even the country’s best team, Juventus, could halt his power. The Bianconeri felt Salah’s strength in the Coppa Italia first leg semi-final, with the 22-year-old scoring both goals in a 2-1 win. It was a massive statement for Salah to make in front of the Sky cameras, beaming back to parent club Chelsea. He ran the complete length of the field to open the scoring early on, before doubling his tally in the second half when latching onto a defensive error. It was the perfect performance by Salah. If he wasn’t assisting goals he was scoring them – and it was incredible to watch. The form he had shown at Basel to secure a move to Stamford Bridge was shining bright again for Vincenzo Montella’s team.
Fiorentina boss Montella was no doubt breathing a heavy sigh of relief – he had lost his star man and received a player who had never played in Italy before. But Salah’s adapted superbly to life in Florence as well as perfecting numerous positions on the pitch. He can feature as a winger in the coach’s 4-3-3 formation but could also stay as a striker alongside Mario Gomez in a 3-5-2. Salah continues to perform well above expectations and recently netted in a 2-0 win over European rivals Sampdoria.
It is hard to tell whether Chelsea will decide to part with the Egyptian permanently; but with his price tag on the rise, a certain Roman Abramovich must be rubbing his hands together vigorously as he lands yet another profit.
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