Friday 20 September 2019

John Aldridge: 'There has been a change in the dynamic between Salah and Mane - and Jurgen Klopp must manage it'

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane

John Aldridge

THOSE looking to knock Liverpool off their perch were excited to see Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane having a public fallout at Burnley last weekend, but I bet manager Jurgen Klopp is quietly pleased by this turn of events.

No manager wants his own players to argue in public, but what we have seen between Salah and Mane over the course of 2019 is a changing dynamic in their status that finally came to a head at Turf Moor.

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In the season when Salah scored 44 goals and ran away with all the Player of the Year awards, there was no doubt that he was the main man at Liverpool and, arguably, the best player in the world during that period.

Mane then got a taste as being Liverpool’s leader when he shared the Premier League’s Golden Boot with Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last season. And you could sense a healthy competition was developing between them at the back end of the campaign.

I had a situation like this in my time at Oxford, when I was playing up front with Billy Hamilton and there was a battle between us to finish as top scorer.

When you are in a personal duel like that and get into a position to have a pop at goal, you are tempted to ignore what might be the better option of passing to a team-mate in the bid to go for glory yourself.

Billy and I managed the situation well because even though we wanted to finish ahead of each other in the scoring charts, we would pass to each other if the moment was right and it benefited the team.

What Klopp needs to do is to ensure the current situation does not develop into a feud that unsettles his dressing room, as Salah and Mane are so crucial to Liverpool’s hopes of success.

Klopp is a manager who has proved he knows how to get the best out of players and I would suspect he will get the two the them into his office ahead of next Saturday’s game against Newcastle and nip this issue in the bud.

This may be fresh news to a lot of people, but those of us close to Liverpool have appreciated that a rivalry has been bubbling between Salah and Mane for some time and, in some respects, I can sympathise with Sadio here.

I have spent some time with him after games at Anfield in recent months and he is a lovely lad, very calm and focused on what he wants to achieve in his career.

As he climbed up the scoring charts in the Premier League last season, I was encouraging Sadio to imagine himself winning that Golden Boot and holding it up in front of the Liverpool fans.

Football is a team game, but the honour of finishing as leading scorer in the top division of the English game is the ultimate personal prize for any striker and I am very proud of my Golden Boot from the 1987-88 title-winning season with Liverpool.

It was a dream for me to play for my local club, win the title and finish as the First Division’s top scorer – and I achieved all of those in that memorable season.

The memory I have of lifting that Golden Boot up to The Kop and hearing them roar my name will live with me forever. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

I spoke to Sadio about that last season and it was clear he had a desire to get himself onto the top podium for goal scorers, but that means going head to head with a teammate and there is no doubt Salah can be a little greedy.

He scored so many goals a couple of seasons back and that set his own bar very high. And you could see that he was trying to live up to that last season, as he was a little Wyatt Earp with his shoot-on-sight policy.

There have been numerous occasions when he could have passed to a team-mate in a better position to score, but Mo wants the goals for himself and as a former striker who wore the Liverpool shirt, I see where he is coming from.

The counter balance to the accusation that Salah is a little too greedy in front of goal is provided by his impressive assist statistics during his time at Liverpool.

He laid on goals for team-mates on eight occasions last season and ten more the year before, which is a pretty impressive record.

When you add that contribution to his wonderful personal scoring record, it confirms he is a real team player, and yet there is always room for improvement.

One factor in this story that may be different from my time playing for Liverpool may be the financial rewards on offer for being leading scorer for your club or winning the Premier League’s Golden Boot.

I got a nice little trophy and a slap on the back, but I’m sure Salah and Mane have huge bonuses written into their contracts if they finish as top scorer.

We have seen Paul Pogba trying to snatch the ball every time Manchester United get a penalty, and you wonder whether that may be because he is chasing goal bonuses.

Liverpool didn’t have that problem as they rose back to the top of the European game under Klopp, so the manager needs to ensure all of his players keep their minds on what matters most and do not allow their own personal ambitious to blur that focus.

On balance, this competition between Salah and Mane is good for Liverpool. It should drive the two of them on to even greater heights.

Read John Aldridge every week in The Sunday World.

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