Having struggled for three decades to reach the heights that were absolutely their rightful place once, Liverpool have finally got there under Jurgen Klopp. The German’s charisma endeared him to the club’s supporters from day one, and they’ll always remember October the 8th, 2015, as a huge turning point in their recent history.
Six years have passed since then. The Merseysiders managed to win their sixth Champions League trophy in that time, along with the 19th title in the English top flight, and while the ‘ole big ears’ they snatched in Madrid in 2019 takes them to the double tally of their nearest English rival – Manchester United, the 2020 Premier League title leaves them still one short of their fiercest foe.
Yet, even that might change at the end of the season. Kopp’s men are looking strong at the moment, racing Manchester City and Chelsea at the top of the table, and if they finish first, their claim to being the greatest English club of all will have received a powerful argument.
But as all things eventually come to their end, the task the club now face is preventing that from happening, and in that aspect, the most immediate problem they have to overcome is the future of Mohamed Salah.
There can be no question about the Egyptian being among the most important factors in their successes in the last four and a half years, and the reported €42m fee Liverpool paid AS Roma for his services in 2017 has many times proven to have been a bargain, despite a number of attempts by rival fans and even pundits to laugh his arrival off at the time.
Salah broke the Premier League record for most goals in a 38-game campaign at the first time of asking, with his 32 strikes surpassing the 31-mark previously reached by Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. Even then many tried to brand him as a ‘one-season wonder’, but the winger has kept going at the same, incredible pace ever since.
There were views voiced after the 2018 Champions League final that the injury, notoriously suffered at the hands of Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, would leave him physically and emotionally weaker, and that he wouldn’t be the same player afterwards. However, the setback seems to have only made him stronger and he came back from it looking a fiercer opponent than ever. At the moment, there probably isn’t an attacking player in the world a defender would dread facing more than Mo Salah.
The thing is, the expiration date on Salah’s contract is slowly approaching, and when it comes to constructing the club picture for the next several years, renewing it is obviously seen as the greatest priority imaginable. And yet, there are many things that need to be taken into consideration on that front, and the situation is not as straightforward as it may seem.
Liverpool obviously want to keep Salah and Salah wants to end his career at Liverpool, he said so himself, but there are still a number of issues to resolve.
First of all, and most obviously, there are the wages he would be receiving. Quite understandably, Salah wants a sum that would reflect, at least in relative terms, his status as perhaps the best player in the world right now. But Liverpool have always been wary of breaking their wage structure and strove to keep the dressing room as a whole in peace, and it has been one of the keys to their achievements under Klopp.
Another thing is, Salah needs to be convinced that Liverpool will remain where they are – at the very top, fighting for the biggest trophies on offer – while he is at the club. To that end, they will have to have a clear plan in place, and they’ll have to convince him of its feasibility. It will, presumably, include refreshing the squad to an extent, with the fact that several key players are in or very close to their thirties in mind.
But unfortunately, that includes Salah himself, who will celebrate his 30th birthday in June 2022. The club will have that in mind as well, and make sure the player and his representatives are aware of it during the negotiations. After all, Liverpool were in a similar situation with Georginio Wijnaldum, and the Dutch midfielder, also crucial to everything the team achieved in his time at Anfield, ended up leaving as a free agent six months ago.
And yet, there is a third aspect the club have to consider as well, and that’s how much it would cost to properly replace a player like Salah. There is only a handful of younger players out there who could possibly hope to reproduce his impact in the near future, and each one of them would likely have demands just as huge, if not even more so. The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland obviously come to mind here.
Make no mistake, the situation is very complicated and there are no easy answers here. Every Liverpool supporter, surely Klopp and most of his players too, are hoping to see Salah put his name on the dotted line again, but only time will tell if they’ll get their wish. The problem would become rather more urgent if no agreement is found before the season is out, and it’s likely that in that case, Liverpool would be open to offers for their star goalscorer next summer.
Mane and Firmino
As good as Salah is, there is very little doubt about Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino playing a huge part, both in Liverpool’s success and Egyptian’s rise to stardom. The pair of them have always done a great job to stretch the opposition defences, with Salah poised perfectly to benefit from their presence.
But Liverpool face contract problems here as well. Both Mane and Firmino are in the same boat as Salah in that aspect, with their respective deals expiring in 2023. The club are reportedly deep in talks with Mane about a new one, while nothing is being said about Firmino at the moment. Perhaps it’s worth bearing in mind that the Brazilian is a year older than Salah and Mane, and that his place in the starting XI is not nearly as certain due to the emergence of Diogo Jota as a prolific scorer.
But like with Salah, it remains to be seen what happens with Mane and Firmino. Liverpoo’s famous front three could be up for a breakup soon, and then again they might all end up staying put for a while yet. The only thing that seems certain (seems, mind you), is that the club won’t allow all three to leave over the next 18 months.
For all the talk of Salah, Mane and Firmino (and Virgil van Dijk, Wijnaldum, Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson…) being important for everything Liverpool have done over the last six years, Jurgen Klopp is the man who stands head-and-shoulders above them all in that aspect. None of it would’ve happened without his passion, vision, knowledge of football and man management.
And the most worrying aspect of the club’s future is probably the fact that Klopp himself, as things stand at the moment, will be out of contract in 2024.
Naturally, the German has been asked about it many times, and he’s yet to give an indication, let alone a definitive answer. All that he was willing to divulge so far is that he’s not ruling anything out, and that if he does leave, he’ll take some time off to spend it with his family and recharge his batteries. It’s probably too soon to talk about retirement, he’s only 54 after all, but once he did say he had no intention of managing into his seventies.
Everyone connected with Liverpool will surely want Klopp to stay for as long as possible, even more so than Salah, Mane or any other player. Salah would be hard to replace, but Klopp… probably impossible.
The names most frequently mentioned as his potential successors in the Anfield dugout are club icon Steven Gerrard, who is currently at Aston Villa after a successful spell in Glasgow with Rangers, and Klopp’s No.2 man, Pep Lijnders, whose passion and tactical insights given in Carabao Cup-related press conferences reflect the attitude of Klopp as closely as anyone will ever get.
The best thing to do for Liverpool supporters right now is probably to worry as little as possible about the future and enjoy the ride they’re currently on. Players like Salah, Van Dijk and the rest, not to mention managers like Klopp, don’t come very often.