Golden Boot winners Salah and Son prove African and Asian players among the world’s best
The English Premier League came into existence in the summer of 1992, just as two of its future stars were being born: Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min, who now share the Golden Boot for the 2021-22 season.
It has been won jointly before, sometimes by three players.
That was the case in the 1997-98 season when the local trio of Chris Sutton, Michael Owen, and Dion Dublin all found the target 18 times each.
Twenty years later, Salah was the best and the following season the Egyptian topped the charts along with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane in a special time for African football. This time, however, after a three-way and solo success, the 29-year-old Egyptian collects his third award but shares it with South Korean Son, it is a noticeable pairing.
Salah and Son have scored 23 goals over the campaign that finished on Sunday, with Liverpool finishing second behind Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur taking fourth, and the last UEFA Champions League spot, above rivals Arsenal.
Of the top two goalscorers in the most popular league in the world, one is African and one is from Asia. It shows the global power of football and the talent that exists in all corners of the world. Such a thing would have been almost unthinkable 25 years ago.
Salah’s goal-scoring exploits have become so commonplace that fans and media can forget just how impressive they are. The former Chelsea and Roma star now matches Alan Shearer’s record with a third Premier League golden boot. He has now scored 118 goals in 180 games in the competition. Such consistency over five seasons, his lowest total was 19 back in 2019-20, is truly impressive.
This is the first such prize for Son and comes after his best season for Tottenham Hotspur in terms of scoring, beating his previous highest tally of 17 from the last time around.
Unlike Salah, who hit the ground running as soon as he arrived at Liverpool, it took the South Korean some time to find his feet in North London after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen in August 2015. There was even talk that he would leave the club at the end of his first season. From then, however, he quickly became a fan favorite. This season has been one to remember, especially as the 29 -year-old has, unlike Salah who managed five from the penalty spot, scored all his from open play.
Both these players would walk into any team in Europe. They are the cream of their respective continents, but to describe Salah as the best African player and Son as the best from Asia undersells them a little.
Both are simply two of the best players in the world and deserve to be described as such. Africa has had a few of those in the past. George Weah won the Ballon d’Or in 1995 while Didier Drogba, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, and Samuel Eto’o all came fairly close in the past. That has not been the case in Asia. There have been plenty of talented players from the East, but none have established themselves as one of the best players in one of the big leagues in the way that Son has managed over the last few years.
If Spurs were challenging for titles, then Son would surely be the first Asian star to make an impact when it came to voting for the world player of the year. There has been some surprise that he has not gone to one of the global elite such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, or Liverpool, a place where he would win domestic titles and challenge for the Champions League, and there has not really been any speculation over his future.
Unlike Salah, the Asian player signed a lengthy new contract with his club last year, which has reduced that conversation. There is also the presence of an even bigger star, in English terms at least, as England captain Harry Kane gets more attention from the local media. Son has helped his team qualify for next year’s premier continental competition, and if he shines in that tournament, then there is a chance of being part of that global conversation. Son also suffers a little as his national team is unlikely to go too far at the World Cup, while Salah’s Egypt are not there at all. If these two nations were getting to semi-finals and finals, then these players really would be even bigger stars than they are right now.
Salah’s club situation is a little different. He has won and is still winning trophies and has lifted English Premier League, European, and world titles. His contract status – his deal ends in a year – has been the subject of a lot of speculation though it seems likely that the North African will stay at Anfield as there is still the prospect of more glory. While Son was delighted with his goals at Norwich that won him the award and helped his team finish fourth, Salah was disappointed that his 23rd strike couldn’t help the Reds finish above second. At least he has had the FA and the League Cup this season, and this weekend he has the chance to get revenge on Real Madrid for that 2018 defeat as the two powerhouses meet in the final in Paris.
Whatever happens on Saturday, this has been another great season for Mo Salah and another one in which Son Heung-min has shown what a fine player he is. To have sons of Egypt and South Korea on top of the Premier League goal-scoring charts is the global game at its best.