Liverpool face a big decision over Mohamed Salah‘s future this summer, with the club weighing up a new contract for the free-scoring No. 11 as he nears his 29th birthday.
June will see Salah turn 29 and enter the final two years of his deal at Anfield, and there is clear agitation from the Egyptian’s camp over his next move.
According to The Athletic’s Simon Hughes, detailing the role of the forward’s advisor Ramy Abbas Issa, Salah is “concerned” over a “lack of urgency” from the club regarding talks over an extension.
This was the motivation behind interviews with Spanish publications AS and Marca earlier this season, with the implication being that if Liverpool didn’t move fast enough, a switch to LaLiga could be on the cards.
Salah is “not determined” to leave the Reds, it is claimed, but Hughes suggests his club “might see the future differently,” particularly set to the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His resale value will never be higher than this summer if no new deal is agreed, which leaves Liverpool with a big call to make.
Do they reward their leading goalscorer with a lucrative contract, or part ways and seek a potential record transfer fee?
The obvious, most straightforward reason for giving Salah a new contract is that he is a record-breaking monster of a forward, and undoubtedly one of the most important players in the squad.
With 122 goals in 196 games so far, he is the club’s 13th all-time top scorer, and is just nine shy of leapfrogging Dick Forshaw, Jack Parkinson and Sam Raybould into the top 10.
Only one player in the top 50, Gordon Hodgson, has a better games-to-goals ratio, with Salah’s output on par with that of Luis Suarez.
At 28 he is showing no sign of letting up, either, having recently recorded his second-highest goal return for a single season at Liverpool, with seven games still to play.
There is certainly a comparison to be made with Suarez, who left the Reds in 2014 and, after a hugely successful spell that saw him rise to third in Barcelona’s all-time scorers list, is still performing at the top level as a 34-year-old at Atletico Madrid.
Salah is rarely injured, shaking off minor knocks to play, and this season should break the 50-appearance mark for the third season out of four with the club – the outlier being his 48 outings in 2019/20.
Only 10 players have clocked more minutes on the pitch throughout Klopp’s entire managerial career, with none having done so in a shorter period of time.
He is an elite forward, one of the best in world football, and if his body holds up, he could continue to spearhead Liverpool’s attack for many years to come.
Keeping him at Anfield would allow for a succession plan to be put in place while he still operates, with Harvey Elliott already on the books as a likely heir but still needing time and experience before he is ready.
Furthermore, ensuring Salah’s stay would negate the need to sign a replacement, as beyond Kylian Mbappe – who is probably out of reach at this point – it is difficult to see a comparable wide forward on the market.
However, whether Liverpool can afford to hand a 29-year-old a new long-term deal that would no doubt break the club’s existing wage structure is another matter entirely.
The club is estimated to have suffered a £130 million loss in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and could work with an even tighter budget as Klopp looks to strengthen his squad this summer.
With the five-year deal Salah signed back in 2018 believed to be worth around £200,000 a week in wages, it is reasonable to predict any extension would add at least another 25 percent onto that.
Extending his stay until, say, 2025, then, could feasibly cost the club £52 million in wages alone, with further fees required for both the player and his representatives.
Liverpool believe that a recent £533 million investment into Fenway Sports Group will allow them to maintain their financial trajectory, which could provide the backing needed to secure Salah’s loyalty, but even then there are major risks.
Despite his impeccable fitness so far, there is no guarantee the Egyptian won’t naturally diminish with age – though his commitment to his physique and improving his game indicate that he could well emulate the likes of Suarez, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
If there is a considerable dropoff as Salah nears 30, Liverpool sanctioning a sizeable outlay for a new deal could come back to bite them, as was the case with Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.
Ozil signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with the Gunners in 2018, earning the German around £350,000 a week, but played just 42 times for the club in the following two years before terminating his deal to join Fenerbahce in January.
That set a dangerous precedent at the Emirates, and though a similar decline for Salah is farfetched, granting the Egyptian a significant pay rise at 29 would give leverage to others within the squad in a similar position.
Those would, of course, include Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson, whose terms all expire in 2023, like Salah’s.
Salah’s situation can be compared, then, with that of Gini Wijnaldum, with the club reluctant to shift their stance in negotiations with the Dutchman who, at 30, would require a major boost in wages if he did re-sign.
Instead, Wijnaldum is set to depart on a free transfer this summer, which will be deemed a failure by Liverpool’s financial department, and a scenario they will not wish to repeat with Salah.
If no extension is granted, a sale this summer may be necessary to extract value out of the No. 11 – though whether a buyer could be found for the right price is a debate for another day.