In the immediate aftermath of Real Madrid’s sensational Champions League semi-final heist against Manchester City, a few pictures from the comparatively serene tie between Liverpool and Villarreal 24 hours earlier appeared on the superstar forward’s Twitter account alongside a simple caption.
“We have a score to settle.”No other context was necessary as minds instantly flashed back to the 2018 Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid.
His nemesis from that 3-1 defeat in Kyiv has left the stage, but a much-disputed incident and its incendiary fallout means it would be unsurprising if Salah did not have revenge in mind.
We have a score to settle. pic.twitter.com/MWxfhIIW78— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) May 4, 2022
What happened between Mohamed Salah and Sergio Ramos in the 2018 Champions League final?
In the 2017/18 season, Liverpool were not yet the all-conquering winning machine they have become under Jurgen Klopp.
But they had a goalscorer heading for the stratosphere and, in the Champions League, they were a team transformed.
Salah scored a phenomenal 43 goals across 50 games in his first season at Anfield, already making the £36.9million paid to Roma look like a scrappy handful of loose change.
In Europe, he kicked things up a notch, netting in both legs of the 5-1 quarter-final aggregate win over Manchester City before hitting a first-half brace to put his old employers from Serie A on the back foot in the semi-final.
It meant Salah carried many of Liverpool’s hopes on his shoulders, something that would soon become an unfortunate metaphor.
During the first half, Sergio Ramos dragged the Egypt icon to the ground as they battled for the ball, keeping Salah’s right arm locked under his left. In the fall, Salah suffered a dislocated shoulder.
He was forced out of the action and, although Sadio Mane cancelled out Karim Benzema’s opener, Gareth Bale’s double courtesy of a spectacular overhead kick and a Loris Karius error meant Madrid ran out 3-1 winners to claim their 13th European title.
What was the fallout after Sergio Ramos injured Mohamed Salah?
Klopp was unimpressed by a challenge he described as “ruthless and brutal” a couple of months later as Liverpool prepared for the 2018/19 season. Salah was back to fitness and preparing for what would ultimately be a triumphant campaign in Europe that time around.
However, he was a shadow of his usual self – despite scoring twice – as Egypt lost all three of their group games at the 2018 World Cup. It was hard to watch Salah in that forlorn state on the biggest stage, a man who appeared to be a master of all he surveyed before his Ramos entanglement.
The villain of the piece, playing such a role to perfection, was key to the story spiralling to a remarkable extent in the days and weeks that followed. It is worth remembering that referee Milorad Mazic didn’t even award a foul for the challenge. Ramos consoled a tearful Salah as he departed with a pat on the cheeks, an act that drew varying interpretations with regard to its sincerity.
After lifting the trophy, Ramos offered no public comment on the incident for a week, aside from a tweet wishing Salah well, before speaking to Madrid-based sports paper AS.
“Bloody hell, they have given this Salah thing a lot of attention,” he said. “I didn’t want to speak because everything is magnified.”
Contrary to that stated aim, on he spoke: “I spoke with Salah through messages, he was quite good. He could have played on if he got an injection for the second half.
“I have done it sometimes but when Ramos does something like this, it sticks a little bit more. I am only missing Roberto Firmino saying he got a cold because a drop of my sweat landed on him.”
From a third-person reference to unsolicited medical advice, it was quite the performance. Salah acknowledged Ramos had been in touch but offered no indication of detente. “He sent me a message, but I never told him it was okay,” he said.
Did FIFA and UEFA punish Sergio Ramos for his Mohamed Salah challenge?
Given there was no foul given and no recourse to VAR in the Champions League until the following season, there were really no grounds whatsoever for Ramos to be punished.
That did not stop 535,000 people from signing an online petition on change.org asking for football’s world and European governing bodies to “take measures” against Ramos because he “intentionally kept Mohamed Salah’s arm under his armpit, causing dislocation of his shoulder”.
Far more bombastically, Egyptian lawyer Bassem Wahba launched a €1bn lawsuit against Ramos for jeopardising Salah’s participation in the World Cup. Perhaps consolation goals against Russia and Saudi Arabia actually denied us the trial of the century.
Spotting a gold-plated opportunity to grab some viral publicity, the European Judo Union even took to Twitter: “Waki-gatame is a dangerous technique,”read a tweet below an image of the Ramos-Salah flashpoint. “That’s why it’s not allowed in judo to use for transition to ne-waza.”
What is Mohamed Salah’s record since the Sergio Ramos incident?
Salah was back in the final the next year, in Madrid at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano, and on hand to dispatch an early penalty and setup a 2-0 win over Tottenham.
There was a rematch in 2021, although Ramos missed both legs of the Champions League quarter-final through injury. Salah scored in Madrid but Liverpool lost 3-1 and were held to a 0-0 draw at Anfield as both games were played out behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.
Salah has revelled with full houses back for the majority of this season, scooping the FWA Footballer of the Year award after inspiring Liverpool’s quadruple bid that ended at the weekend as Manchester City got over the line in a breathless Premier League finale.
Thank you to all those who voted for me. pic.twitter.com/e1ZhiX9US0
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) May 6, 2022
The 29-year-old has scored 31 goals and laid on 15 assists in 43 starts and 49 appearances overall across all competitions. On the other hand, only four of those goals have come in Salah’s most recent 19 Liverpool outings.
Ramos is now in his dotage in Paris, but a sight of old enemies Madrid with a score to settle could be just what he needs to get the fire burning again. Los Blancos are certainly well aware of Salah, and that’s not just because their long trumpeted move for Kylian Mbappe collapsed at the last.
“Obviously they’re words that everyone can take however they want,” Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde told Club del Deportista magazine in response to Salah stating he wanted to play Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the final.
“I’m his opponent and it’s like disrespecting the Real Madrid badge, the players… The only thing we must do is give our best, try to show why we’re in the final and let’s hope we can give another trophy to the fans and to Real Madrid.”
Speaking at news conference on the week of the final, Salah was certainly in no mood for backing down.
“I’m very motivated, motivated through the roof, especially after what happened last time and what happened on Sunday [City beating Liverpool to the title] everybody is motivated to win the Champions League,” he said.
“I remember when I went off, it was the worst moment in my career. I was really down at that time. We had a good season and came to Champions League final and then I went off. It was the worst thing to happen for a player. I knew the result from hospital. We couldn’t lose that way.”
Deliciously, the time for talking is almost over and Salah seems hellbent on providing a different ending.