Jürgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah find themselves embroiled in an entirely predictable and wearying controversy following the German manager’s 62nd-minute substitution of the Egyptian Winger in Liverpool’s record-setting loss to Chelsea last night.
Salah, as he nearly always does when subbed off, showed clear frustration as he walked off the pitch. However, many would argue he had more right than usual to be upset. The Premier League’s leading goalscorer looked the most likely man in Red to find a goal during yet another uninspired attacking performance. So, it was odd to see him make way for Diogo Jota’s long-awaited return rather than Sadio Mané or Roberto Firmino.
Though football fans, pundits, writers, and keyboard warriors (and apparently even Salah’s agent) were quick to speculate about a rift in the Liverpool locker room following Salah’s reaction, Klopp insists it was simply a forward being understandably upset to be taken off and there is no rift to mend between them.
“I’m not even sure if this situation is now a reason for a ‘proper talk’ about it,” Klopp said. “We are 1-0 down, that makes no player happy. You go off and you react in different ways because you are not happy.”
“You get subbed, you are a striker and you think you should stay on the pitch. That’s all completely clear and not an issue, it is just normal life.”
Twice since the end of the match, Klopp has stated that he took Salah off simply because he looked like he needed a rest, not because of his play. This time, he also made the point that the early exit may mean Salah is able to play again this weekend.
“In the situation when you make a decision like that he looked, for me, like he felt the intensity. He probably saw it completely differently and that is completely fine,” said Klopp. “It’s not the most important thing in the world, maybe 30 mins without Mo Salah is why he can play again on Sunday.”
According to Liverpool’s manager, this is the type of decision you make in the moment, with no thought to how it will be perceived from the outside or how you’ll have to explain it afterward.
“We make these decisions in the moment and not with any thoughts in behind, the problem only is you only have to explain it after the game and the day after the game.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the footballing world does think about what these decisions mean on a deeper level, and they will devote countless words and hours to speculating on those deeper meanings. To many of them, Klopp saying their speculation is baseless will mean very little, but it’s important to note that he said so anyway, and also that he is adamant the players understand his decisions and know how to move past them when they disagree.
“These kind of stories (rumors of unhappiness) so far didn’t happen. I cannot guarantee for the future and for all times it will never happen but these kind of discussions we never had. It is completely normal: I make a decision, the boys accept it, no-one feels that he has nothing to do with the situation and he is not responsible for it.”
“I cannot not change a player just because it creates a story. You do it because you think in the moment it’s right.”