As Mohamed Salah continues to break records and set his sights on more, speculation over the future of Liverpool’s No. 11 is similar to that seen thirty years ago.
Of all the statistics to emerge from Liverpool’s record-breaking 7-0 win at Crystal Palace, my favourite was the Reds’ seventh goal being the 600th scored under Jurgen Klopp‘s management.
Six hundred goals. Since October 2015. And it only took 288 games, 10 less than the previous club record of 600 goals in Sir Kenny Dalglish‘s first 298 games in charge.
Unlike Dalglish, Klopp didn’t score any of those goals himself, nor did he inherit a side that had just lost the European Cup final having won a treble of league, European Cup and League Cup a year earlier.
Not that I’m trying to detract anything from what King Kenny achieved. He won the double in his first season as player-manager and then lost his best two attacking players – Ian Rush to Juventus and himself to his age – before building an even better side in 1987/88.
Unquestionably, the best player in that ‘Better than the Brazilians’ team was John Barnes. FWA Footballer of the Year and PFA Player of the Year, Barnes scored 17 goals – and provided 18 assists – that season. And he followed it up with another 60 goals and 43 assists during the next three campaigns.
Hold the abacus, I make that 77 goals and 61 assists during Barnes’ first four years (and 182 appearances) in a red shirt. Even on the days he didn’t score or create, he was an absolute joy to watch, and a wanted man on the continent with talk that a world-record transfer fee of £6 million – a third of what Sheffield United had to pay for Rhian Brewster these days – would be enough to prise him away from Anfield.
“I’ll fight to keep John Barnes here,” said Noel White when appointed as LFC chairman after the Reds won their 18th league title in 1989/90. “He is the hottest property in world football – and we will give full consideration to whatever demands he wishes.”
Even the lack of social media couldn’t prevent a ‘will he stay or will he go’ saga. “Liverpool are ready to make John Barnes Britain’s highest-paid player by offering him a staggering £8,000-a-week to stay at Anfield,” reported the Daily Express in December 1990.
“The Barnes deal would give him almost £2,000-a-week more than Gary Lineker, previously regarded as Britain’s best-paid footballer, and would dwarf the £5,000 weekly pay package of his boss Dalglish. The champions have already rebuffed moves for Barnes by Real Madrid, Genoa and Marseille.”
Yes, that did say Genoa, and in case you’re wondering they finished fourth in 1990/91 with Carlos Aguilera and Thomas Skuhravy up front while city rivals Sampdoria, led by strikeforce Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, won their first-ever title. They also beat Liverpool home and away in the UEFA Cup quarter-final in 1992.
As you well know, Barnes signed a new deal to stay put, but the Achilles tendon injury he suffered while playing for England (some things never change, eh?) against Finland in 1992 robbed him of his electrifying pace.
After recovering he was subsequently sent out to pasture in central midfield while young whippersnappers such as Steve McManaman, Mike Marsh, Jamie Redknapp and Don Hutchison did his running until he formed an excellent partnership with Michael Thomas.
Thirty years on and it feels like history is repeating itself a little with Mo Salah. Since signing for the Redmen in 2017, Salah has been every bit as good as Barnes was in his first four seasons at the club, if not better.
Now there is talk of whether he will sign a new contract or move to the continent – if anyone can actually leave the country ever again.
Salah’s numbers are incredible: 110 goals and 42 assists in 173 games. He rarely misses a game through injury, isn’t nearly as selfish as some of the perceptions about him suggest and is the consummate professional.
Catching coronavirus at his brother’s wedding is the wildest thing he’s done other than beat his daughter at chess, after which rumours suggested that his rooks don’t get on with the bishops.
But what next? Salah is 28 now, in his prime. Is he here for the long haul, or will he come to the same conclusion that 29-year-old Thiago did at Bayern Munich in the summer and decide he is ready for a new challenge elsewhere?
When Salah said he wanted to break “every record” at Liverpool in his recent interview with AS that has led to speculation over his future, I believed him. He’s massively motivated by numbers.
After scoring his 100th goal for the club against Everton in October (in his 159th appearance), a journalist excitedly told Mo that only two men – Jack Parkinson and Roger Hunt – had reached the tally quicker.
The journalist was expecting a reply along the lines of ‘I’m so proud of this’, yet Salah’s immediate response was “I wish I could have been the fastest one.” It absolutely summed up his mentality; be the best, be number one, settle for nothing less.
He is ambitious for collective and individual success, but genuinely believes the first leads to the latter. If you ever read he would move to a club solely for financial gain, it is a lie. He wants to win above all else.
His two goals at Palace put him joint-14th on Liverpool’s all-time leading scorer list with 110. Another 20 goals takes Salah into the top 10 and of the 13 players above him, all but two – Parkinson (219) and Sam Raybould (226) made between 288 and 710 appearances for the club.
Salah will make his 174th against West Brom at Anfield. He’s ahead of those he is chasing on ratios.
Of course, other numbers come into it. At 28, and still with two-and-a-half years left on his current contract at Liverpool, the next deal he signs should be his most lucrative. The stats suggest he is one of the best in the world and he should be paid accordingly.
If the opportunity of experiencing a new, better-paid lifestyle in Spain is on the table will Salah want to head to Barcelona or Madrid? Yes, both have had better days than those at present, but we all know how quickly things can change in football.
Or, knowing how highly Jurgen Klopp regards him and that the manager himself is committed to managing Liverpool until 2024, is a two-year contract extension until 2025 – meaning the club would probably try to sell him in the summer of 2024 when he turns 32 – an angle Mo’s agent is working so that his client can earn more while he pursues more trophies and records?
Of course, FSG’s policy on w(age)s also comes into the mix – and nobody should be kidding themselves that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to result in even clubs like Liverpool taking a whopping financial hit – but it seems to be the case now that if Klopp wants a player to be signed, sold or stay, the board find a way to make it happen.
And when you’re talking about a player who has scored 110 and created 42 of the 600 goals netted by Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp‘s management, I reckon they will be asked to find a way to make it happen and give Mo Salah the opportunity to rewrite the record books again and again.
* Chris McLoughlin is Senior Writer for Reach Sport, publishers of the Liverpool Matchday Programme. You can order a copy of the Liverpool vs. West Brom programme or subscribe here.