Mohamed Salah is hitting heights that few Liverpool players have reached. It should be the easiest decision in the club’s history to extend the Egyptian’s contract beyond its 2023 expiry date. Jurgen Klopp has said that the striker is the best player in the world at the moment. So why the delay after a summer when a number of Anfield’s core players had their deals extended and were handed pay rises?
Football is never quite as simple as it looks. Salah is looking for at least parity with his Premier League peers — Kevin De Bruyne earns in the region of £380,000 per week at Manchester City. This presents Fenway Sports Group (FSG) with a huge decision. To satisfy the goalscorer, Liverpool’s owners will have to double his current wages to £400,000 a week. That would be a gamble in their eyes.
If it was a simple matter of talent FSG would sign the cheque now. Salah is the player who, more than any other, vindicates the recruitment ethos that the Americans have brought to Merseyside.
They desperately wanted to sign him from Basel in 2014. Brendan Rodgers, the manager at the time, was less certain and dithered, allowing Chelsea to gazump their rivals. FSG had to wait another three years to get their man, eventually paying Roma £36.9 million for his services. Liverpool’s scouts were certain that he had the potential to become a superstar.
The problem is that Salah is 29. FSG’s concern is that they will be tied into a huge contract for a player entering his thirties next summer. Their philosophy is built around youth and value. The fear is that they will be stuck with a player in decline banking a massive salary.
Virgil van Dijk is 30 and the club extended his deal in August. The difference is that the Dutchman earns £220,000 per week. That is a long way short of Salah’s demands.
Sadio Mane, 29, and Roberto Firmino, 30, are also out of contract in two years’ time. Decisions need to be made on how to reshape the front three by balancing costs and effectiveness. Salah is the most marketable of the three and would recoup the biggest fee if sold next summer. However, if he extends his deal before his attacking teammates, their financial expectations will soar.
Salah’s worth cannot be gleaned from a mere balance sheet. The emotional and psychological impact of his leaving would be huge. His performance in the 5-0 victory over Watford on Saturday was reminiscent of Kenny Dalglish, the greatest player in Liverpool’s history.
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The pass with the outside of his foot for Mane’s opening goal evoked the Scot at his most creative and delicate. Then Salah extricated himself from a gaggle of players in the opposition area to score an exquisite strike that underlined the comparisons with Dalglish.
On Wednesday he blew past Atletico Madrid defenders in a style that brought to mind John Barnes or Steven Gerrard before firing into the net to set Liverpool on their way to a 3-2 win in the Spanish capital.
Salah ranks with the most legendary members of the Anfield pantheon. The goalscoring records tell only half the story. He is one of those rare players whose presence affects opposition thinking and sends a surge of belief through his own dressing room. There is no price on what he brings to the team. To allow him to depart next summer would disgust supporters and lower the club’s prestige.
Klopp’s team is set up to get the best out of Salah. For all the praise handed out to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, the system works because of the forward’s pace and movement.
FSG do not have many options. They need their talisman. By contrast, Salah does not need Liverpool. He is a man in demand. He has a great sense of his own status and knows he has one more big move in him. Spain is an attractive option and although there are a limited number of clubs who can afford him, there will be a short, filthy-rich queue for his signature if he departs Anfield.
Liverpool need to make him an offer he cannot refuse. It would be foolish to let him leave while he is at the top of his game.