The pursuit of Mohamed Salah’s signature on a new Liverpool deal did not end in the Anfield Legends’ Lounge but on the idyllic Greek island of Mykonos.
It was there, where Salah is enjoying a family holiday, that a club delegation led by director of football Julian Ward resolved an 18-month contract impasse, negotiations accelerating over the past few days as both parties made the compromises to ensure the unthinkable did not happen.
For Liverpool to lose one of their superstar strikers, Sadio Mane, this summer might be considered careless. To have lost Salah, too, in a year’s time would have been negligent. The heart of the delay was, inevitably, about money.
Salah wanted a deal befitting his superstar status. He saw Kevin De Bruyne earning £400,000 (€464,000) a week at Manchester City and, with some justification, felt he deserved a similar reward. Liverpool made what they considered a “generous” opening offer before the 2020-’21 season – thought to be about £300,000 (€350,000) a week – and insisted they would pay only what was affordable.
They were also in negotiations with key players such as Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho. All renewed with little fuss, although hesitancy in renewing Jordan Henderson’s deal (eventually sorted in pre-season 2021 following a public intervention by Jurgen Klopp) offered a hint as to how complex negotiations can be when a player’s self-assessment of his value clashes with the board’s “moneyball” calculations.
The most significant meeting between Fenway Sports Group president Michael Gordon and Salah’s representative, Ramy Abbas, was in Miami this year.
Although there was no agreement, there was certainty Salah wanted to stay and Liverpool wanted to keep him. After a year of flirting with La Liga’s biggest clubs, most notably Real Madrid, that was reassuring.
However, as the months passed, the prospect of a Bosman deal edged closer. Salah would have been able to sign a pre-contract agreement with overseas clubs from January, and he made it known before the Champions League final he would leave for free if no deal was agreed.
The deadline was becoming more pressing, with both sides willing to flirt with brinkmanship. Both will feel their approach has been vindicated.
Increasing the wages of Salah and Mane, with both players in their thirties, could have been considered an expensive risk. Replacing Mane with Darwin Nunez, a player eight years his junior, while rewarding Salah for his extraordinary feats maintains a healthy age balance while ensuring the squad’s salaries remain structured.
Although Liverpool would have extended Mane’s deal, too, had he wanted to stay, a resolution on Salah’s future so soon after the Senegalese’s sale to Bayern Munich cannot be coincidental. Divock Origi was also earning £100,000 (€116,000) a week before his contract expired on June 30. It is reasonable to presume Liverpool saw the merit of diverting this salary into Salah’s wage packet.
Liverpool will now reduce their wage bill with sales. Salah’s salary is in excess of £350,000 (€406,000) a week and he will earn more based on goals and assists up to 2025. It is testimony to his confidence that he has backed himself to meet lofty targets. Liverpool felt Salah would find it impossible to walk away from the club where, fitness permitting, he will continue to rewrite goal records, as pivotal to an evolving Liverpool attack as he was in tandem with Mane and Roberto Firmino. His presence guarantees goals and assists, and preserves a legacy that means he is recognised as a club icon alongside Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Steven Gerrard.
Step aside Erling Haaland and City. Liverpool have just secured the most important signature of the summer.
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