A disillusioned Mo Salah is the last thing that a struggling Liverpool need, but the Reds can at least sleep easy in the knowledge that traditional predators in Spain are far too mired in their own problems to capitalize.
One culprit in Sunday’s embarrassment was Salah, the Egyptian forward being stripped of the ball on the edge of his own box, allowing Mario Lemina to strike into the bottom corner of Alisson Becker’s net for the game’s only goal. “Not good enough, not strong enough,” came the studio verdict on Salah from the acid-tongued Roy Keane.
Liverpool’s previous game at Anfield was no less enjoyable for Salah. On that occasion, Reds fans endured the sight of their top scorer being hooked off after just 62 minutes as they went down to Chelsea. The 28-year-old was still shaking his head in the stands when his agent fired out a cryptic tweet consisting of a full stop, which rather than bringing an end to a discussion merely sparked more rumors of Salah’s discontent amidst Liverpool’s collapse.
On that occasion, Klopp had played the diplomat afterwards, claiming the decision to substitute Salah was merely down to the forward “feeling the intensity” of the match. By that point though, all the talk was of Liverpool having a simmering problem on their hands with the man who has top-scored for them with 17 goals in 27 Premier League games this campaign.
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We are not long removed from Klopp having to bat away talk that Salah was unhappy at Anfield, after the forward flirted publicly with a potential move to Real Madrid or Barcelona in an interview with Spanish outlet AS.
“I think Madrid and Barcelona are two top clubs,” Salah said back in December. “Who knows what will happen in the future, but right now I am focused on winning the Premier League and the Champions League with Liverpool again.”
It was the kind of vague, non-committal comment we’ve come to expect from chaperoned footballers, but it was nonetheless enough to draw a defensive Klopp to later insist that it was “nice for [the media] to write about” but that there was “nothing really” in the remarks from Salah.
But after a sulky substitution against Chelsea and a new low against Fulham, that “nothing” may have become something more pressing for Klopp to consider. Indeed, Liverpool icon Robbie Fowler is among those to ponder openly whether the club would be better off getting rid of Salah, should he really be miserable at Anfield.
But let us suppose that Liverpool do end up failing to secure a Champions League place for next season (which seems entirely plausible), and that Salah does push to leave in the summer. Where would he go, and would he even be able to make the move to Spain that he has publicly flirted with?
In past seasons, it’s easy to imagine that Barcelona and Real would be circling the wagons, watching with relish as the wheels fall off Liverpool’s title defense, with Salah moping in the stands. The end of the season would be an ideal moment to swoop for one of the game’s top players, in his prime, and with some mammoth marketing clout to boot.
Salah is under contract at Liverpool until 2023, reportedly with no release cause, but that would unlikely have deterred Barca or Real in any pursuit. The Catalans in particular have raided big prizes from Merseyside before in the form of Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho (admittedly to differing degrees of success). Likewise, Salah’s contract ties would unlikely have put off Real – those nefarious masters of pulling all the strings to land the prey they set their sights on.
Both destinations might seem enticing options for Salah, all the more alluring during such a troubled period at Anfield.
But these are no ordinary times, and it’s not just on Merseyside where tumult has taken hold. Barcelona are mired in debt reportedly to the tune of more than €1 billion ($ 1.19 billion). They are also enduring one of the worst off-field crises in recent memory after the detention last week of former senior figures – including ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu – as part of allegations into alleged misuse of club funds.
The election on Sunday of Joan Laporta as new president – a man who oversaw La Liga success and Champions Leagues title in his previous tenure at the helm – will likely provide a short-term boost for the Blaugrana faithful. Laporta, though, has plenty on his plate to work through – not least persuading Lionel Messi to remain the club. Should he manage to do that, Messi’s considerable wage burden (estimated at a current basic rate of €72 million per season) would continue to weigh heavy on the books, even if the Argentine were to reduce his demands.
Were Messi to leave in the summer and the load be lightened, Barca’s dire financial straits are such that they would need to examine carefully the financial implications of any arrivals – such as Salah – to cushion the loss of their six-time Ballon d’Or winner. Salah is currently valued at around €120 million, and where would Barca stump up that kind of cash?
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Over in Madrid, things barely seem more propitious as Real feel the pinch from the Covid pandemic. So accustomed to bringing in superstars on a conveyor belt, Real went the whole of last summer without making a single signing for the first time in 40 years, and again kept the purse strings tightened in January.
Reports in Spain put Real’s gross debt at around €900 million, making them not much better off than their cash-strapped Catalan rivals. They are also undergoing a €500+ million renovation of the Bernabeu, financed by long-term loans but still a consideration in the back of the bookkeepers’ minds.
If Real do delve into the market, most of the talk has been about them consummating their protracted courtship of Kylian Mbappe from PSG, or moving for the freescoring Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund. Both men are considerably younger than Salah, and Haaland in particular would seem like value for money considering his relatively modest release clause of €75 million, active from 2022. The logic for Real might be along the lines of, ‘Why move for Salah now when you can wait for one of the two hottest properties in world football to come on the market?’
When asked recently if he thought Liverpool players would remain loyal to the club and not seek moves despite the current demise, Klopp replied in the affirmative. “It isn’t a situation where a player in the squad says, ‘We’re not in the Champions League so I have to leave’. That will not happen. I know them well enough to know that,” the German said.
In years gone by, that assertion might have been tested to the full by the two big beasts over in Spain. For so long, they were ready to turn others’ misfortunes into their gain, swooping in for players such as Salah who had cast flirtatious glances their way. In the current climate though, it’s far more questionable whether these two ailing giants can act, even when there are parties willing to be tempted away.
So, while Liverpool’s problems mount, their manager and their fans can at least rest a little more peacefully knowing that Salah is unlikely to have that particular escape route from Anfield open to him, even if he should hope to take it.