After Liverpool’s Champions League success, there are reports of the vultures circling.
When a team who no one expected to challenge in the semi-final and – probably – final of the competition don’t just reach the latter stages but simply blow their knockout stage opponents away everyone wants to tear the talent away from the overachieving club – and let’s face it, to be in Europe’s top four at the end of this season would have been seen as overachievement at the start of the season.
The thought that Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino might leave Liverpool this summer has been thrown around a bit, but news of the Brazilian’s signature on a shiny new contract have probably put paid to that.
Those hoping Firmino signed the wrong document thanks to his ‘no-look’ signature are bound to be disappointed. Some might say that contracts mean little in modern football: just look at how Liverpool sold Philippe Coutinho less than a year after he signed a five-year deal. But the Barcelona player is also the case in point: the Reds didn’t sell up straight away precisely because the player was tied to a long-term contract.
Salah might be an altogether different issue if the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona come calling, but don’t bet on that either: although Salah is in the vein of form usually reserved for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, that only means his price tag will be astronomical, and after only one season of hitting those levels, prospective buyers are unlikely to see it as a safe investment until there’s hard proof that he can sustain his goalscoring form.
I won’t fall into the trap of labelling the Egyptian a one-season wonder, he’s shown enough this year to suggest that he’ll be one of Europe’s top players again next season even if he doesn’t break the 40 goal mark for the second season in a row. But if you’re Madrid or Barcelona, you’d think twice about signing a player for a near-world record fee just on the back of one good season.
And even that assumes Salah would want to go anyway – and there’s no evidence of that either. Outside of those two, it’s hard to see the Reds being forced to sell anyone else. The much-criticised defence is hardly an obvious shop window of talent, nor is the midfield.
That shows two things. One is how well Jurgen Klopp has done to create a starting team that is more than the sum of its constituent parts. Filled with players he’s improved, his side has perhaps just two superstars – and maybe Virgil van Dijk at the back, whose presence is arguably one of the reasons they have been so competent in the second half of the season.
The other thing is that it proves Liverpool shouldn’t be thought of as a side going through a purple patch and who will inevitably fade away towards the bottom of the Premier League top six and out of Europe before the Champions League gets interesting.
Sure, you need luck to succeed, and you can also have a bad season and fall short. But this Liverpool side isn’t filled with lots of players having the perfect season all at once. Time will tell if that’s the case with Salah, but it certainly isn’t with the rest of the squad, which – if anything – lacks the depth to compete properly.
That will change this summer: the arrival of Naby Keita will bring even more energy and drive to a midfield who have hassled and harried some of the best in the world this season, and as discussed above it’s unlikely that big-name departures will hurt the squad too much (losing Emre Can, admittedly, would be a blow, but only on the grounds that he’s a useful player to have around and has potential to be a top midfielder – not because he should be in the starting XI).
Every day there seems to be another comment on social media or elsewhere about Salah or Firmino being perfect for one of Europe’s top clubs. They might be right – Firmino especially looks like a great Karim Benzema replacement – but the evidence at the moment suggests that Liverpool will only get stronger this summer.