Pep Lijnders: Mohamed Salah 'an example to the world for how a leader should be'

Liverpool's assistant manager talks to 'The National' during the club's training camp in Dubai

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Liverpool assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders is “proud” to see Mohamed Salah develop into a great leader for the team both on and off the pitch and says the Egyptian has been a force in their Dubai training camp.

The Reds began their winter training camp at Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex on Tuesday as they ramp up their preparations for the Premier League’s return later this month.

Salah has scored 14 goals for Liverpool this campaign across all competitions, and is expected to provide the spark the team need to claw their way up from their current sixth position in the Premier League table.

“Look, if you see Mo Salah being concentrated from the first minute of training until the last minute, showing his dribbling skills, his unpredictability, being a leader, speaking with the young kids, I can only say that so far so good,” Lijnders said in an interview with The National at the LFC store at Dubai Mall on Thursday.

Lijnders stopped to brag about a recent victory he and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp claimed over Salah and Thiago Alcantara in padel before he continued to rave about the ‘Egyptian King’.

“I sat with Mo yesterday in the car for a long time, together with Thiago and Jurgen, after the padel match Jurgen and me won against Mo and Thiago, 6-3; if that comes up in Egyptian press that would be great. Because he has been asking for months to play and now that we played, I haven’t heard a word from him the last two days,” the Dutchman said with a laugh.

“He is the guy who goes out of his comfort zone. Nothing good happens in the comfort zone and he goes out of it all the time. He left Egypt, it wasn’t easy, a lot of setbacks, and with time and with his character and with his personality, became a leader in my opinion. Not just a leader on the pitch but also a leader in the dressing room.

“He’s such an example for the world, how the world could look and how he deals with situations. We’re really proud that he has signed with us again, that he’s with us, that he’s one of our leaders. I always look at him, if he trains how he trains, I always see him training so well.”

Mohamed Salah has been a star player for Liverpool since joining the club in 2017 and in July signed a three-year contract extension. AP

Lijnders says the message from the coaching staff to the players is very clear during this period.

“We have to become a pain for all the other teams again,” he stated.

The 2020 Premier League champions had a sluggish start to their current campaign and have picked up just six wins from 14 games so far.

While the return of Luis Diaz, who had been sidelined with a knee injury since October, will be a welcome boost for the Reds – he has been featuring in the team’s sessions in Dubai this week – several players, including Alisson Becker, Fabinho, Ibrahim Konate, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk are still in Qatar competing with their respective nations in the World Cup. Integrating them back into the Liverpool squad will not be a simple task.

“If you play on a high level and you play every three days, you’re competing in the World Cup, emotionally it’s draining. So the only way to create freshness again is that the boys get some time off, that the boys regain this mental freshness,” Lijnders said.

“A lot of people mistake physical fatigue with mental fatigue. So we have to make sure that they are fresh because they play for their country, a different style, so we will first give them time off to really relax, to be with their families, to put the emotion aside, because whether they win or lose, anyway it will be emotional.

“And after that they will come. That’s why one of the reasons we came to Dubai is because it’s a really short trip from Qatar. So then they join us hopefully here, or hopefully they win it all, then of course they join us there and we reintegrate them.

“They will be fit but they probably not be fit to our style because they play a different way in the national teams, so then it’s about adapting them again. But they are top players so they adapt really quick.”

Meanwhile, Naby Keita, who hasn’t played for Liverpool since July due to a hamstring problem, was seen training with the squad in Dubai, while Diogo Jota is also in town as he continues rehabilitation for the calf injury that ruled him out of Portugal's World Cup squad.

Liverpool trail Premier League leaders Arsenal by 15 points and will be hoping the one-month World Cup break will not halt the momentum they managed to build in the last few weeks before the season was interrupted.

“I think towards the end we gained momentum again, we reached consistency again; we have to change a few things to reach that level,” said Lijnders.

“As you know players with injuries are coming back at this moment, who we really need, who give the team different dynamics. It’s never good that you have to prepare the second half of the season without six or seven guys who are still at the World Cup. But they’re competing at the world’s best stage and we’re so proud of them that they are there. We wish them all the best and I hope Virgil comes back with something at least.”

Speaking of the reasons that attributed to Liverpool’s dip in form this season, the Dutchman added: “If there was one simple reason or one simple conclusion – it’s never like this of course. Many things came together that made the season more complicated and more difficult.

“If you come to a phase where there is a lot of doubt and players and team are not as dominant as you were before, you have to find different solutions. But it’s arrogant to think that life will always go up, up, and up, how it went the last years.

“There will be difficult moments and it’s for me, Jurgen, for the rest of the staff, for the team, to deal well with the difficult moments. And honestly I never saw the team lose commitment, I never saw the team lose passion, I never saw the team lose togetherness.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp with assistant Pepijn Lijnders. Getty

“And if we have that, success will come back again, if they work like that. Hopefully the tough period is behind us.

“I believe with the character we have, if we keep them fit and if we keep them fresh, and we build on what we did, we will be back again. And there’s so much to play for still, people forget that sometimes; we will be there.”

Liverpool’s 12-day training camp will include two games against Lyon (December 11) and AC Milan (December 16) in the Dubai Super Cup at Al Maktoum Stadium.

Their first official fixture back is a League Cup showdown at Manchester City on December 22 before returning to league action at Aston Villa on December 26.

*Pep Lijnders was speaking to The National at the LFC store in Dubai Mall, where he had a signing event for his book ‘Intensity: Inside Liverpool FC’.

Updated: December 09, 2022, 6:09 AM