Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp believes Mohamed Salah’s superb campaign with Liverpool shows he has “grown up” after the forward was voted the 2018 Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.
The Egypt international narrowly topped the poll of the 400-strong FWA membership ahead of Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, the margin understood to be less than 20 votes.
Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane was in third place.
Salah, 25, struggled to make an impact during his first spell in England at Chelsea, but has scored 43 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions for Klopp’s side this season since his summer transfer from Roma.
The Egyptian has spearheaded Liverpool’s push towards a potential place in the Champions League final – the Reds lead Roma 5-2 ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final second leg in Italy.
Speaking in Rome ahead of the crucial European tie, Klopp paid tribute to Salah’s impact on the team.
More from @paddybarclay on @MoSalah's Footballer of the Year award. "Mo Salah is the worthiest of winners. He is also the first African to receive the award and we congratulate him on a magnificent season.”#FOTY2018 pic.twitter.com/koyHcteiKa— The FWA (@theofficialfwa) May 1, 2018
“He has matured, got confidence here,” the German said. “He came from Chelsea to Florence and played a good season, but not as good as the season at Roma.
“He grew up and became the player he is now. We are the lucky guys who have him now in the team, that is how it is.
“It is not that I have explained to him exactly how to score goals, he knew that before already, but each striker in the world does not start as an 18-year-old boy as the goal-getter – he needs to make his own experiences.
“That is what Mo did, in very difficult circumstances, coming early (in his career) from Egypt to Switzerland (with Basel), doing all that journey, carrying all that responsibility for all the people, maybe for a whole country, and he is really quite cool with it.
“He has good team-mates, they love helping him and they love how he helps them.”
Between them, Salah and De Bruyne, who helped City claim the Premier League title with five games still remaining, collected more than 90 per cent of the journalists’ votes.
The 25-year-old becomes the first African winner of the prestigious FWA accolade, which has been awarded since 1948.
Tuesday’s announcement sees Salah complete a personal double, having last month been named the 2017-18 Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year, finishing ahead of De Bruyne and Kane in the vote of their peers.
Salah will be presented with the 2018 FWA Footballer of the Year trophy at The Landmark London on May 10.
Chelsea and England forward Fran Kirby was last week announced as the inaugural FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year, which will be presented during the same gala dinner.
FWA chairman Patrick Barclay said: “It has been the tightest call since 1968/69, when there was a dead heat between Tony Book of Manchester City and Derby’s Dave Mackay.
“Right up to the last week or so we thought it might happen again, so strong was the support for Kevin De Bruyne, but Mo Salah’s relentless match-winning form, exemplified by his two great goals against Roma, seems to have swung the vote by a very narrow margin.
Unbelievable season for us. Very happy to call us champions this year pic.twitter.com/Ulvw5zQyaa— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) April 15, 2018
“What a race it has been between two players who, in a relatively short time, have reached genuine world class, but Mo Salah is the worthiest of winners,” Barclay added on the FWA website.
Other players to receive votes from FWA members were, in alphabetical order: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Nick Pope (Burnley), David Silva (Manchester City), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) and Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).