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The Strange History of Mamadou Sakho

Mamadou Sakho has the strange distinction of having gone from marquee signing to bench-warmer to necessary cog in the Liverpool machine in the two seasons he's been with the club. With rumors of his departure now hopefully put to bed, let's take a closer look at the French centreback's time at Liverpool.

Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Mamadou Sakho's history with Liverpool Football Club has been a strange one. Sakho, who at 17 years old, was the youngest player to ever captain a Ligue 1 side, left Paris Saint-Germain, his boyhood club, when Liverpool came calling in the summer of 2013. After PSG was taken over by Qatar Sports Investments and injected with their considerable wealth, Sakho lost his place in the side to the likes of Alex and Thiago Silva. Without consistent minutes, he was also dropped from the French roster only a year before the World Cup. That was what ultimately led to the end of his career at PSG and allowed Liverpool to step in.

The signing was a deadline day deal that did the nearly impossible in this modern footballing era - remained a secret. Fans, journalists and ‘in-the-knows' alike were taken by surprise when Liverpool broke their centerback transfer record and paid £15m for the PSG icon. Fans of the French club were distraught over losing a treasured and, by all accounts, well-respected player. Ian Ayre referred to Sakho as the club's "marquee signing" and a player with Champion's League pedigree to help fill the hole left behind by vice-captain Jamie Carragher.

His transfer was a surprise for many reasons, the chief one being the glut of centerbacks that the club brought in that summer. In addition to Sakho, Liverpool also welcomed seasoned Premier League veteran Kolo Toure and young talent Tiago Ilori. However, based on FSG's blueprint for targeting brilliant but out of favor players - Daniel Sturridge andPhilippe Coutinho being the most obvious examples of this - Sakho was a logical choice.

Marquee signing, they said. And indeed Sakho very quickly proved himself to be a powerhouse at the back: aggressive, fearless, and gifted with a keen intelligence on the ball. And in addition to his hair game being ridiculously on point - emphasis on the ridiculous - his affable and friendly personality have made him a popular figure amongst the club and its supporters.

So what went wrong? How did Mamadou Sakho go from marquee signing to benchwarmer between September 2013 and September 2014? Like Daniel Agger before him, Sakho does suffer from a long history of injury problems that has kept him out for long stretches of time, both at Liverpool and PSG. When he plays, though, he's almost always excellent. The 2013-2014 season saw a constant rotation of pairings in central defense as Brendan Rodgers tried to work out which combination worked best. The fans never saw the much desired pairing of Sakho with Daniel Agger, but by the end of that successful season, it seemed that Sakho had earned his place as first choice.

While the team did mount an impressive title run that ultimately saw them lose out to Manchester City, the defense was shaky at best and desperately needed dealing with over the summer. Did Brendan Rodgers blame Sakho for this fragility? Sakho's method of distribution, especially in his own box, may be unorthodox, but it gets the job done. Whatever the reason, that transfer window saw the club tirelessly pursuing Dejan Lovren despite already having Sakho and Agger in their arsenal. Did the £20m spent on Lovren say more about Rodgers's faith in Sakho's abilities than it did about his faith in Lovren's?

The nadir in Sakho's short career with Liverpool was late September of 2014 when he was left off of the roster for the home game against Everton and was seen making an angry early exit from Anfield before the game as a result. This sort of behavior is, of course, unacceptable, but it's hard not to feel for his plight. Lovren's performances hadn't improved after his less-than-impressive debut, and it seemed as though Rodgers was persisting in playing him to justify his heavy price tag rather than because he'd earned his spot. Meanwhile Sakho, so solid the season before, had barely seen any minutes in the opening fixtures.

The fact that the situation was followed by another lengthy injury layoff made it even more unfortunate. Liverpool hovered solidly midtable through the fall and early winter, with Lovren putting in a string of consistently sub-par performances. It wasn't until Sakho had recovered and Rodgers changed the defensive formation that the team began seeing the right sort of results again.

Now in the wake of a disappointing season where Sakho's performances were one of a precious few highlights, rumors have swirled about his future at the club. Some say that he's leaving for Lazio, while others say that he's a main contender for the vacated position of vice-captain. Given his history in the two years at the club, I'd say both are equally likely.

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