No sooner had Mohamed Salah crushed Manchester City’s Champions League dreams this week, the messages between Liverpool and Rome went into overdrive.
Those exchanges are now likely to be put on hold with Liverpool star Salah being pitted against his former employer, Roma, in the semifinal of the Champions League.
Speaking to CNN ahead of the draw, Salah said he had already been messaging his former teammates, offering his congratulations after Roma’s astonishing victory over Barcelona.
But while he holds good memories of Rome and speaks fondly of his old team, he says Liverpool were the club his friends in Italy wanted to avoid in the final four.
“They’ve all said: ‘We don’t want to play against Liverpool,’” Salah told CNN International in an exclusive interview.
“It would be nice to go back to Rome, it’s my old club. I love the fans there and they love me too.
“I still talk to most of the players there. We were very close to each other and we are good friends.
“Of course, I have happy memories. We played together for two years and were fighting together in all the games. We had a good time in the dressing room. “
Salah spent two years playing in Serie A with Roma, scoring 15 goals in 31 appearances last season before joining Liverpool last June for a then club-record fee of $49 million.
While progressing to the Champions League final is Salah’s primary concern, he can’t wait to see one former colleague in particular at the Serie A club.
“Totti,” Salah says with a smile, referring to Francesco Totti, who retired from football last May after a career spanning 24 years at Roma, the only club he played for and where he’s revered by the fans.
“He is amazing, unbelievable,” says Salah. “He has everything. I love him. I have a good relationship with him, he’s very nice.”
Goals, goals, and more goals
While Salah may not have reached that point of adulation at Anfield quite yet, his recent exploits have led to him becoming one of the most popular players the club has seen for years.
The winger has scored 39 goals so far this campaign, 29 of those coming in the league to leave him on the brink of securing the coveted golden boot.
On Friday, the 25-year-old became the first ever player to be awarded with the Premier League player of the month award for a third time in the same season.
He has scored seven goals in his past four games in all competitions, and is determined to lead Liverpool past Roma, the team it defeated in the 1984 European Cup final.
Real Madrid, the 12-times winner, remains favorite for the competition, though its opponent, Bayern Munich, will be confident of springing a surprise after the Spanish giant only just scraped through to the last four.
But if Liverpool can overcome Roma, could it win the competition for a sixth time?
“We can, we are in the semifinal,” Salah said. “I always say that we take it step-by-step but we are in the semifinal, everything can happen.
“Everyone went into the quarterfinal with this emotion that we have to win, we can do it. Now with the semifinal, it’s two games to the last step.”
Liverpool will host Roma at Anfield In the semifinal first leg on April 24, with the return at the Stadio Olimpico in Italy’s capital on May 2.
For now, though, Salah will refocus on the Premier League, and winning the coveted Golden Boot, which is awarded to the division’s top scorer. Liverpool play Bournemouth on Saturday April 14.
Salah has a four-goal lead over Tottenham’s Harry Kane, who has netted 25 league goals this season, while Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has 21.
Kane climbed to 25 goals after he was controversially awarded a goal in the recent 2-1 win over Stoke City after it had initially been given to teammate Christian Eriksen.
The Premier League goals accreditation panel reversed its decision on appeal after Kane claimed that Eriksen’s free-kick had grazed his shoulder.
The decision was met with surprise by Salah, who tweeted: “Wooooooow really ?” after hearing the news.
“Yeah, Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero, you know I said before they are strikers, ” Salah added.
“They play number nine, I play as a winger more. So it’s easier for them because they’re always in front of the goal, but I play as a winger.
“It’s a little bit more difficult because I have to give assists. I have to give the ball up, create the chances, but they’re number nines and it’s easier for them.”
Salah recently spoke to CNN’s Becky Anderson for a sport special entitled ‘Mohamed Salah: Liverpool’s Egyptian King,’ set to be released in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup.