In case the protracted battle between Fiorentina and Chelsea—which may become a three way tangle this winter involving Roma—didn't clue you in, Mohamed Salah was a bit of a hot commodity this summer. Although he hasn't registered on the scorer's ledger yet, through his first two matches in a Roma shirt, Salah has almost single handedly transformed Roma's wing play, back into the dynamic and overlapping monster that ran roughshod over the league two years ago.
Given those bona fides and his performances on the pitch since moving to Italy, Salah is our second ranked U23 prospect.
Who Is He?
Prior to becoming a line item on a legal ledger, Salah cut his teeth with El Mokawloon SC in Egypt, making his professional debut in 2010, coming on as a second half substitute in a May fixture against El Mansoura. Salah would become a fixture for the club during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons.
However, following the shutdown of the Egyptian Premier League in the wake of the Port Said Riots in February of 2012, Salah was forced to seek employment abroad. Sensing a chance to capitalize on the opportunity, Swiss club Basel arranged a friendly against the Egyptian U23 side, of which Salah was a member. Salah, coming on a second half sub, scored two goals in Egypt's 4-3 victory and was signed up by the Swiss club less than a month later.
From there, Salah would make 47 appearances across two seasons before being snapped up by Chelsea in an £11 million move. Salah would struggle to find playing time in London, garnering only 13 appearances and scoring two goals across two seasons before joining Fiorentina this past winter.
Despite some consternation between Chelsea and Fiorentina regarding an alleged opt out clause in Salah's loan to The Viola, Roma managed to sign Salah on their own season long loan earlier this summer.
What Can He Do?
For the answer to that, we'll turn to the Special One himself. After signing Salah, Mourniho had this to say about the Egyptian Messi:
I like the fact that he can play the same way as our attacking players do, which is players with adaptability to play right, left or behind the striker in the model we have with normally -- one striker and three behind the striker. He's young like our players in that area...He's fast, creative, enthusiastic.
Mourinho went on to compare Salah to the likes of Arjen Robben, Oscar and Mesut Ozil, among others.
Salah's tactical versatility comes in a slightly built but incredible athletic package—he's blessed with speed, acceleration, agility and tactical understanding. Unlike Juan Iturbe, who may be is equal in pace and dribbling ability, Salah's speed is coupled with an excellent touch, keen vision and efficient and prolific playmaking.
We've already seen the difference in the season's first two weeks; Salah can match the athleticism and sheer speed of Iturbe and Gervinho, yet he knows when and where to be on the pitch, when to be aggressive and went to relent. Simply put, he's a more intelligent and nuanced version of either of those wingers, with some added tactical versatility to boot.
What Can He Become?
Well, if Mourinho is correct and Salah turns out to be a slightly shorter (and hopefully more durable) version of Arjen Robben, then we're talking about an incredible multifaceted and devastating winger, one who beat any defender off the dribble, while also ripping backlines to shreds with his incisive passing.
Really, much like fellow prospect Lucas Digne, Salah has been slotted into an ideal developmental setting. Through two weeks we've seen all the qualities we just discussed, but the pairing of Digne, Salah and Dzeko should be a boon to the production of all three players, perhaps none more so than Salah (when he plays on the left, of course)
Digne's runs forward should draw defenders off Salah—that is when he's not drawing double teams himself—giving him ample space to maneuver, to charge towards the byline and to cut in, linking up with Pjanic or even swapping sides with Iago Falque.
Point being, given the talent that surrounds him and the minutes available, Salah's game should only continue to grow, giving Rudi Garcia and Roma the dynamic winger they so desperately craved, one who may prove to be the league's most athletic and effective wide player.