Mohamed Salah shrugged off Saudi Arabian spotlight to inspire Liverpool win (Peter Byrne/PA)
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Jurgen Klopp hasn’t had a knock on his office door. But Dominik Szoboszlai heard the speech in the dressing room. Mohamed Salah had told his teammates he is staying, the Hungarian reported. The Egyptian, according to his manager, has never come to tell him he was leaving. The German, seeing Salah’s commitment in matches and training, noting his input in meetings of the players’ leadership group, had not felt the need to ask him if his next match would be for Al-Ittihad. “For me it wasn’t a subject for one second, to be honest,” Klopp said.
Perhaps only for him. Klopp could brush aside a £150m bid, with a breezy indifference to the prospect of a windfall, because of Salah’s attitude. “I never had any doubt about his commitment to this club,” he said. “You can’t imagine how much fuss the world has made but how calm we are with it. He is our player and wants to play here.” Which, Szoboszlai said, was the message conveyed to the rest of the side.
The Saudi Pro League transfer window remains open but Liverpool’s position is unchanging: Salah is not for sale. The 3-0 win over Aston Villa was his latest tour de force, but there were few signs it will prove his last: there was no wave that could be interpreted as a farewell on the pitch afterwards, his hug with Klopp was brief while the manager paid more attention to Jarell Quansah.
There was a feel of normality, though these are abnormal times. Many another would be distracted by the prospect of becoming the best-paid player in the world: not Salah. Other footballers, from Matheus Nunes to Wilfried Gnonto, went on strike towards the end of the window. Salah instead struck against Villa.
Such dissent as he has shown this season came at Chelsea on the opening weekend when he contrived to rip a relatively small bandage into several pieces and fling it on the pitch in his annoyance at being substituted. Yet it was all a sign of an enduring ambition: to play, to excel.
The signs are that it is at Liverpool. He has propelled himself to greatness in Europe in a way that was not preordained – not for a player from his background, not for a fringe figure at Chelsea – and perhaps he is reluctant to give up his spot at the top table.
Saudi Arabia may not be a retirement home for everyone, but it is for some. Salah’s old sidekicks Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are there, the Senegalese after a troubled season at Bayern Munich, the Brazilian when his race felt run, but Salah is in the sort of shape to suggest that, even at 31, he is not entering his dotage.
Even as Erling Haaland seems to have supplanted him as the annual Golden Boot winner, he may be more creative than before. Perhaps no forward in the Premier League presents such an all-round threat. As the best-paid player in Liverpool’s history, he is scarcely a pauper. Yet, in a time of transition at Anfield, when the side of 2024 may not reach the heights of some of its recent predecessors, it is notable that Salah has given no indications he is going.
And when he had more reasons to decamp to Saudi Arabia than most. The inexplicable element is that Al-Ittihad left their approach so late: as the best Arab footballer on the planet and, along with Karim Benzema, the outstanding Muslim player, Salah is seen as a flagship signing, a long-term target for the league as a whole. But that time may now have to be next summer, if not later.
Liverpool will tend to sell anyone when three criteria are met: when the offer is big enough, when the player wants to go and when Klopp has the time to recruit a replacement, if he needs one. Al-Ittihad only ticked one of those three boxes and increasing the bid to, say, £200m would not change that.
Salah is back in fine form for the Reds
If Klopp, his players and the fanbase who sang about their Egyptian king are in harmony, the most intriguing element of the Liverpool coalition is the owners. Fenway Sports Group traded their way to the top; Liverpool’s rise was financed in part by selling very well. Financial logic dictates that nine-figure sums for players in their thirties must be accepted. The case for keeping Salah is partly footballing, partly fiscal, given the value of Champions League qualification, partly a case of morale and status and keeping Klopp happy.
But taking £40m for Fabinho, who seemed an old 29 last season, represented the kind of offer they were otherwise unlikely to get; £12m for a 33-year-old Jordan Henderson definitely was. Taking £150m for Salah, who could leave on a free transfer in 2025, might have seemed a no-brainer. But it would also be accepting defeat; for Liverpool but maybe for Salah, too.
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