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Mohamed Salah beats Kevin De Bruyne to PFA award after delivering at crucial moments

Steve Nicol and Alejandro Moreno sing the praises of Mohamed Salah after the Liverpool star was named the PFA Player of the Year.

Judging by the reaction on social media to Mohamed Salah's confirmation as the PFA Player of the Year, there is a distinct split between red and blue following the Liverpool forward's success in beating Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne to the award.

This is understandable. Football is rooted in tribalism after all, so supporters will always back their man, regardless of the merits of the other.

On this occasion, though, it is almost impossible to separate the qualities and achievements of Salah and De Bruyne this season. I am speaking from experience, having cast my vote last week for the Football Writers' Footballer of the Year award, which will be presented to the winner on May 10.

Just like the professional footballers in England's four divisions, my choice also boiled down to one between Salah and De Bruyne -- I did consider City's Leroy Sane, but despite the German winger's outstanding campaign, it would have been difficult to justify Sane ahead of Salah and De Bruyne.

Ultimately, I voted for Salah, despite De Bruyne playing a huge role in City's Premier League title success this season. The Belgian was also instrumental in his club's Carabao Cup victory.

My vote could easily have gone to De Bruyne, but it is all about timing and, with both he and Salah enjoying a fine first half of the season, the Liverpool winger's form surge in recent weeks proved to be the decisive factor.

He may end up with nothing more than a third-place finish in the Premier League to show for his efforts this season, while De Bruyne will head off to the World Cup with two winners' medals stashed away.

But the fact that Liverpool are still in with a chance of winning the Champions League this term is largely down to Salah and his ability to deliver at the most crucial stage of the campaign.

De Bruyne, for all of his brilliance, endured a 13-game goal drought stretching back to January which only ended with his stunner against Swansea at the weekend.

Had he been able to take his game to another level during that time, as Salah has somehow managed, perhaps it would now be City facing Roma in the Champions League semifinals rather than Liverpool.

That may be splitting hairs, but Salah and De Bruyne have both been so outstanding this season that the final decision comes down to those tiny margins.

It will have been the same for the players who voted for the PFA award.

De Bruyne has dominated for large parts of this season, but it could be argued that City have been so formidable that Pep Guardiola's men would still have won the title even without the 26-year-old.

Liverpool, it is safe to assume, would not be in the top four or challenging for a place in the Champions League without Salah's 41 goals in all competitions.

Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne have been head and shoulders above the rest this season in England.
Mohamed Salah beat Kevin De Bruyne to he PFA award on Sunday.

It is about players who make the key difference at the most important times and Salah has done that, time and again, in recent months during a remarkable run of form.

In 17 games since the beginning of 2018, Salah has failed to scored in just three of them. During that time, he has hit the back of the net 18 times.

The timing of the vote for both awards does not always help in terms of selecting the right winner, though.

The votes for the PFA award are counted with more than a month of the season still to run, while voting for the Football Writers' award ends at midnight on April 30, so it is impossible to wait until the last ball has been kicked in order to make a full judgement on a player's campaign.

If Liverpool fail to win the Champions League, will Salah suddenly look a flawed choice as winner ahead of De Bruyne?

Back in 1999, Tottenham winger David Ginola scooped both awards before the end of the season, but by the time the dust had settled on that campaign, Manchester United had won the Treble and none of their players had been honoured with an individual award.

It has proven to be an anomaly of history that Ginola beat the likes of Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Dwight Yorke, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Peter Schmeichel not once, but twice, in the Player of the Year awards that season.

United's array of talent probably split the vote to enable Ginola to win and there is a likelihood that all of the votes cast for the likes of Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling this season played into Salah's hands because they took valuable votes from De Bruyne's tally.

The only consolation for De Bruyne is that he lost out to a worthy rival in Salah.

Scoring 41 goals -- there are probably more to come -- in one season in English football is an outstanding achievement, but it required something out of the ordinary to deny De Bruyne.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

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