Time to Pay the Egyptian King
Salah’s been good since the day he arrived at Anfield! Now in his fifth season on Merseyside we’ve seen him go from sensational wing forward, to player who learned that he has defensive responsibilities, to a player who plays a more rounded game, to now – which at times is on the border of utterly sensational.
Salah’s contract expires in a little over eighteen months and the club has been diligently working to re-sign him. And there is no noise from anywhere (other than nervous Nellie’s on Liverpool Twitter) that anything is likely to stop that.
Players on the move generally let their intentions out. Liverpool land understood that Gini wanted a longer contract, that Coutinho wanted to play in Spain, and that players like Neco Williams want to go somewhere that affords the opportunity for regular minutes.
But there is no noise from the Salah camp about going elsewhere. He could command salaries from two or three other clubs that Liverpool wouldn’t match, but that does not seem to be a sticking point. But I expect his camp does want big money (the most recent press report of 400K/week is utter fiction) and Liverpool will be trying to balance that against a very effective wage structure.
Buoyed by this Mo has taken it to another level this year. We’ve seen him drop a little deeper since the injury to Harvey Elliott and the results have been outstanding. Scorer Mo now has now added facilitator Mo to his repertoire. Then for about 15 seconds a game he pulls out his best (pardon the pun) George Best impersonation.
Liverpool will no doubt find a way to offer him what he wants without damaging their structure too much. They broke their rules to tie down Henderson and this is a club that shows that while they very much stick to valuations both in salaries and the transfer market, they also know when it’s time to make an exception.
The only sticky point out of all this is coming up with the money to tie down Firmino and Mane as well. Liverpool’s Senegalese star seems to be regaining his groove and Liverpool would be deeply reluctant to let him leave despite having three forwards that are 29 (Firmino actually just turned 30) and the risk of having to make multiple replacements at one time.
Despite coming off an early-season injury Firmino too looks like he’s really hitting his stride. He brings such a high football IQ to the game, a motion passing attack resembling a more forward version of Johan Cruyff’s mazy runs at opposition defenses.
Both of these players, but Mane, in particular, are flourishing because of Mo Salah’s development. With Liverpool’s Egyptian sometimes looking like the outside-right in a 4-4-2 this season, Mane is able to drift more centrally and the shift has removed his dependence on creating from the left.
Firmino, and the more direct Jota when he’s playing, are also finding new angles of attack. And while opposing teams are trying to keep their right flank closed to Robertson the stretch from the other side is allowing the Scot to cut in and thread passes through to the other forwards.
I expect these deals to be concluded sooner rather than later. Not because our supporters are baying for it on social media, and not because of the stupid comments by the official supporter’s branch in Egypt that thinks it can put pressure on John Henry through the Egyptian press. It will happen because FSG always have a blueprint, this is part of it, and their execution is really strong.
The club is setting up a core for the next approximately four-plus seasons. That is based around its four main forwards; Fab & Hendo in midfield; Trent, Robbo, Gomez, Konate, VVD in the backline and Alisson in goal. Matip and Thiago have three more years to run so you can see the core of players is in place to build from.
Klopp doesn’t want a big squad! He tends to go with a core of trusted players and supplement them from a developmental / candidate group as needed. Ideally, his primary group is probably four forwards, four mids, and no more than seven defenders.
Assuming Liverpool can get all their strikers re-signed they then have at least three more seasons to work in successors. Hence the Reds will likely be in this summer for a player like Raphinha at Leeds or Sanches at Lille. They can make a case for themselves the way that Jota has or the club will have the luxury of moving them on and trying again. But FSG won’t be blackmailed by an overvaluation which is why things never got started with Raphinha last summer in the first place.
Similarly, Liverpool has to develop their midfield. Milner, Thiago, and Hendo; more or less in that order; have limited shelf life with nobody obvious to succeed them. There are signs that Keita, in his fourth season with the club, can succeed Gini Wijnaldum but that’s insufficient unless he’s around more dominating midfielders. Jones is a talent who has to learn defensive schemes, Elliott will still be in the project category till at least summer ’23, while Ox now sounds like he might be headed to the exit door.
So expect Liverpool to take a similar approach toward acquiring midfielders as they do with their forwards except that the immediate need is a little more pressing. And whereas Liverpool can be more experimental with forwards; I would expect FSG to sanction a big signing in the midfield – if it’s the right player.
Jude Bellingham is the kind of talent they might break the bank for but he looks to be staying put in Germany till after the World Cup at least. Liverpool will have their antenna up for other options, but at least in the short term, the headline act will have to be the Mo show.