It was the crying emojis that launched a thousand ships. Or at least thousands of angry tweets and hot takes. And thousands more, it must be said, with a much more contemplative and level-headed takes.
With an ill-timed tweet (or perfectly timed, from his perspective) Mohamed Salah’s agent seemed to confirm my growing suspicion over the status of his stalled contract negotiations: that Salah will likely leave on a free in the summer of 2023.
I have no insider knowledge, of course. This is just my gut feeling. The situation just feels a great deal like a repeat of the Gini Wijnaldum saga, and a great deal less like other contract negotiations which got over the line relatively quickly. In short, my feeling is that if Liverpool and Salah really wanted to get this deal done, it would already be done.
Time could prove me wrong, and I’d be delighted if Mo stayed and saw out the remainder of his peak years on Merseyside. Likewise, I trust the club and their ownership group, FSG, to look at the cold, hard facts of the situation, and make the right call, up to and including letting Mo go on a free.
It’s easy to get into binary thinking on the admittedly emotional thought of Salah leaving the club relatively soon: either Mo signs a new deal or the club are making a massive mistake.
The problem with this thinking is that FSG and the recruitment team are not prone to making massive mistakes, at least not where talent acquisition and retainment are concerned.
Instead, it is much more likely that both the player and club are acting in their own best interest, which sadly precludes coming to terms on a new deal. Salah gets a mega deal, signing for £400-600 million per week, according to the rumors on Twitter. And the Liverpool do not break their wage structure, especially for a striker who will be 31 when the current deal ends. And they can put those funds to better use, bringing in some young, exciting, and largely unheralded talents, just as they did with Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino (Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz, etc).
To be clear, I’m not saying that our current crop of world-class attackers were completely unheralded, but rather that they did not have the same hype surrounding them as a Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, or even a Jadon Sancho. As is typical throughout Liverpool’s trophy-laden history, our current crop of stars were made at Anfield, and that trend is likely to continue.
Whether viewing this through the Salah’s or the club’s perspective, the plight faced by both is relatable.
I, for one, like my job, my team, my boss, and my company. However, if our biggest competitor offered me 25-50% more, my head would be turned. I’d probably go to my boss, hoping for them to match the salary offer. He’d probably scoff, explaining that it just wasn’t in the budget. Maybe he’d offer 10% more, if he really wanted to keep me. No business wants to be held to ransom, and no employee wants to work for less than their worth. And if someone, in a free market, wants to pay you more, that is your worth.
There is also the financial reality of the situation, at Liverpool and in world football.
Just last year we saw one of the biggest names in world football, Barcelona, brought to their knees after years of wildly inflated team salaries and gross financial mismanagement. Their downfall was, no doubt, only exacerbated by the global pandemic. In the end, Barcelona had to let Lionel Messi—arguably the greatest player ever to lace up his boots—leave on a free.
Salah will go down as a Liverpool legend, no doubt. But no matter how bright Mo’s star might be, it pales in comparison with Messi’s at Barcelona. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to think of a player who has ever done more for a single club, or been as closely associated with it, than Messi and Barca.
For clubs that aren’t the PR sportswashing wings of a human rights abusing petrostate, these are the difficult decisions that must be made.
For Liverpool, specifically, they’ve had to make a few of these hard choices so far, and each time has been for the good of the club in the long run. They allowed Emre Can to go on a free instead of breaking their policy on release clauses. They held their ground on Philippe Coutinho, selling him for an ungodly sum, and reinvested it wisely. They allowed Gini to go on a free, once again, not to break their wage structure. And they’ll probably do the same with Mo.
Because it’s not just about Mo. It’s about every other current and perspective signing going forward. FSG know that it’s not just about keeping one player around—no matter how great that player currently is—but about keeping a squad that is capable of competing on multiple fronts (mostly) intact and happy, and you can’t do that when one player is making significantly more than everyone else.
In the meantime, Mo will likely continue climbing the chart of all-time great Liverpool goal scorers. He’ll likely take home a few more pieces of individual and—Fowler willing—team honors in the process. Let’s all appreciate the journey we’ve been on, and the journey yet to come, together.
He’ll rightly be remembered as a Liverpool legend. But no player, not even King Kenny himself, is bigger than the club.
We probably won’t see another like him. But we’ve never seen another like Ian Rush, or the aforementioned Kenny Dalglish, or the aforementioned Robbie Fowler, or Steven Gerrard, or Luis Suarez, or countless others. Players come. Players go. Liverpool Football Club remains.
Up the past, present, and future Reds.