Sadio Mane is keen on a move away from Liverpool – but team-mate and striker Mohamed Salah isn’t going anywhere this summer, whether or not he signs a new contract.
The prolific Egypt international intends to fend off any attempt to land him at Anfield in the next transfer window. He is fully committed alongside Jurgen Klopp for 2022-23 and is adamant his head will not be turned by any of the other European heavyweights.
However, beyond next summer, Salah’s future is increasingly uncertain. Unless the 29-year-old receives a significantly improved contract offer from Liverpool, he will leave as a free agent at the end of next season. In this scenario, Salah’s preference would be to stay in the Premier League rather than move abroad.
This offseason is pivotal in the context of Salah’s career.
Liverpool owners insist they want to retain the Football Writers’ Association’s recently crowned Footballer of the Year, but time is running out as he prepares to enter the final 12 months of a contract he signed in the summer of 2018.
Athleticism understands that Fenway Sports Group chairman Mike Gordon, rather than outgoing sporting director Michael Edwards or his successor Julian Ward, has held talks with Salah’s agent Ramy Abbas.
However, there have been no face-to-face talks since December, when Dubai-based Abbas flew to Miami to meet Gordon. During these negotiations, it became clear that there was a huge disparity between what one side wanted and what the other was prepared to offer. A revised set of demands was then submitted via email, but deadlock rumbled throughout the second half of the season.
The exact numbers involved remain unclear. Contracts at Liverpool are complex with a host of bonuses linked to individual and team performance. They also have a pay structure that owners are reluctant to break. Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Thiago are in the upper income bracket.
Sources close to the player insist that what Salah was offered actually amounted to a 15% pay rise on his current terms, which they say understated his status in world football.
After assessing what other elite players in European football earn, they believe the salary he is seeking at Liverpool would make him the sixth highest paid footballer on the planet. Earlier this season, Salah himself insisted he wasn’t asking for ‘crazy stuff’.
Salah, who has scored 156 goals in 254 games since a £43.9m move from Roma in the summer of 2017, will turn 30 in a few weeks but has just equaled his second-best single-season comeback with 31 goals in all competitions as Liverpool won the Carabao Cup and FA Cup before narrowly missing out on Premier League and Champions League glory. He’s also incredibly durable – averaging over 50 club appearances per season in his five years on Merseyside.
He shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Tottenham’s Son Heung-min on 23 goals and won the award for most assists after creating 13 more. He is happy in Liverpool and has settled in Cheshire with his wife Magi and daughters Makka and Kayan. But he wants a contract which he believes is representative of his importance and value to a team fighting for the biggest prizes in European football.
There has been speculation that the length of a possible extension is a sticking point. However, Athleticism learned that Salah would be ready to sign a new two-year deal if the terms are right. He is not looking for the security of a four-year contract. He is a model professional and he is confident that he will continue to perform at the highest level until his mid-thirties.
As Liverpool prepare to launch another attempt to find a compromise with Salah and prevent the problem from happening again next season, new sporting director Ward will be tasked with finding a replacement for Mane.
The Senegal international, who like Salah is in his final year, wants a new challenge after six years at Anfield. Bayern Munich are the favorites but Liverpool are ready to play hardball. They want around €50m (£42.5m) rather than the €30m (£25.5m) fee that has been touted in Germany.
Liverpool brought forward their summer plans to buy striker Luis Diaz when they completed a £50m move for the Colombia international in January. However, Mane’s likely exit – coupled with striker Divock Origi joining AC Milan as a free agent – means that part of the squad will need to be further strengthened.
The club are also expecting a lot of interest in Takumi Minamino, who was their top scorer in both domestic cups last season but then failed to make any of the Wembley finals and found his opportunities in other other limited competitions, starting just one Premier League match. Bought from Red Bull Salzburg for £7.25m in January 2020, the Japan international is valued at around £17m. Inter Milan and Leeds United have already expressed interest.
Senior Anfield officials held talks over a possible free agent deal for Kylian Mbappe earlier this year, but it soon became clear they simply couldn’t make the numbers work financially. It became a direct shootout between staying at Paris Saint-Germain and joining Real Madrid after his contract expired. The French international opted for the former.
Where Liverpool turn now will be intriguing.
They have already shortlisted players like Lille’s Canada international Jonathan David and West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen, who has just received his first senior England call-up. They must be bold given that Manchester City have already strengthened the team that beat them to the title last season with the signing of Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland.
A new attacking option Klopp will have in 2022-23 is Fabio Carvalho. The talented teenager will officially join the club on July 1. Liverpool will pay Fulham £5m, with a further £2.7m potentially to follow in add-ons. The west London side also has a 20% sell clause.
Liverpool view Carvalho as capable of playing on the front line as well as in an advanced midfield role. They have no intention of loaning it out. Harvey Elliott, who played his youth football alongside Carvalho with Fulham, is confident he will prove to be a major asset.
Besides Salah and Mane, Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are also approaching the final year of their contracts.
Firmino is keen to stay, despite losing his regular starting status following impacts from Diogo Jota and now Diaz. “I’m very happy here,” said the 30-year-old Brazilian. “I’m grateful to God that I’m playing here for a great club with great players, winning titles. And my will is to stay.
Liverpool are hoping to agree an extension with Keita, while Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future hinges on his willingness to move. The former Arsenal man didn’t play a minute of football in the final two months of the season after falling out of favor. The club will listen to the proposals.
Klopp said ahead of last weekend’s Champions League final that every player knows exactly where they stand.
Vice-captain James Milner, who is a free agent this summer, is currently debating whether he should stay at Anfield on a heavily incentivized one-year extension or pursue a move that will secure him more regular action. The 36-year-old has no shortage of options.
Liverpool will look to strengthen their midfield.
Jude Bellingham is widely admired, but it is admitted that it could be difficult to land the 18-year-old England international this summer given that Dortmund are already losing Haaland. It would take over £80million. Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni, 22, has been widely scouted but Liverpool believe he is destined to join Real Madrid, with PSG also keen.
Loris Karius will certainly go free as the keeper tries to revive his flagging career.
Nat Phillips, Neco Williams, Ben Davies, Ben Woodburn, Sheyi Ojo and Sepp van den Berg have just completed loan spells in the Championship or Scottish Premiership. Woodburn is out of contract this month, while it’s hard to see the others forcing their way into Klopp’s plans for next season.
The values of Phillips and Williams were bolstered by their eye-catching contributions in helping Bournemouth and Fulham secure automatic promotion to the Premier League. Liverpool pocketed a £1.5million loan fee for Phillips and another £250,000 after Bournemouth returned to the top flight.
Ward will demand around £15million for the centre-half and a similar fee for Wales international right-back Williams. Liverpool are in no rush to sell and are prepared to wait until later in the window.
They are also looking to complete a £4million deal for Aberdeen teenager Calvin Ramsey. The Scotland Under-21 full-back would effectively become Trent Alexander-Arnold’s understudy at right-back if he signs.
There is a lot to settle before the start of pre-season in Kirkby on Monday July 4. Notably trying to bring the Salah saga to a successful conclusion and avoiding the unappetising prospect of losing him to a rival for nothing in 12 months.
(Top photo: Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)