Even after Liverpool had fended off Al-Ittihad’s interest in Mohamed Salah last summer, it seemed like his future was set.
Generally speaking, keeping hold of a player with two years remaining on his contract and who is not pushing for a departure tends to be straightforward.
But, after that had been achieved, the general consensus was that the Reds would be entering the same battle 12 months on with their negotiating position severely weakened.
Of course, the club were happy to accept those terms given that another year of Salah increased the chances of an immediate return to the Champions League and perhaps major honours.
And, with such huge sums being poured into the Saudi Pro League, it also felt a safe bet that a decent fee would still be on offer, even for a player with just a year left on his deal.
Salah appeared to acknowledge these factors in refusing to force the issue, with another year playing at the highest level clearly an appealing alternative to a move.
As for those heading up a PIF-fuelled transformation of football in the Middle East, it seemed they were also willing to accept a delay in securing their crown jewel once a late, face-saving bid was out of the way.
Unfortunately for the Saudis, six months on, it appears they may have made a significant miscalculation in reckoning that any postponement to a move would only be brief.
In fact, enough has changed to suggest that Salah’s proposed summer switch to the Saudi Pro League could be at risk.
Salah is not slowing down
He may be 31, but there have been few signs that the winger is slowing down amid him playing a key role in bringing Liverpool back to their best this season.
The joint-top scorer in the Premier League with 14, Salah has also clocked up eight assists to make himself the clear standout in terms of goal contributions.
And these figures are no fluke, either, as an xG total of 14.3 (just behind Erling Haaland’s 14.8) and the league’s best xA rate of 8.5 attest.
Salah also ranks sixth for key passes (47) and sixth for carries into the penalty area (47), underlining the sheer completeness of his threat.
These aren’t the sort of numbers that make a move to a relative footballing backwater seem appropriate at this point.
Salah will also surely have noticed that the Saudi Pro League project is perhaps not moving forward as quickly as last summer’s trailblazers might have hoped.
His former teammate Jordan Henderson certainly appears to feel that way, with the quality of the football and attendance figures that would not look out of place in League Two prompting him to seek a hasty return to England this month.
Could he extend his Anfield stay?
With all that in mind, it would be a travesty for Salah to take such a significant step down at a point when it looks like he has so much more to give at the highest level.
So, could he, in fact, extend his stay at Liverpool? And how tricky might it be to find an agreement?
When the Reds were in negotiations with their star man over his latest three-year deal, they recognised his status as one of the best players in the world by handing out the biggest contract in Anfield history.
However, any further extension must both acknowledge his worth while also protecting the club from a decline that has seemingly yet to begin but will do so eventually.
Happy. New. Year. pic.twitter.com/rGvptFkymA
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) January 1, 2024
It will be fascinating to see whether that delicate balance can be struck ahead of a summer that will be quite unlike the last given the pressure on Liverpool to make a decision either way.
But they will surely be aided by the fact that it is far less certain than it seemed it might be that Salah himself will be keen to go.