A good therapist will tell you that everything in your life is a series of stepping stones. Each moment, each decision, each job, each choice will eventually lead you to somewhere – for better or for worse. That certainly was the case for me when I decided to talk to a random Liverpool fan at my former job and two years later ended up marrying the guy - and no, it’s not the Liverpool connection that sent me to therapy.
It’s also the case for people who go into further education and hope that a degree will see them onto a Graduate Scheme. It certainly used to be so for Premier League footballers as well – who would put themselves in the shop window for the biggest clubs in England and then hope for a move to either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
The big two. The ones with more pulling power than the rest combined. Between them, Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated football for the last couple of decades, and Barcelona have a serious claim to being the best club side of all time – while Real Madrid will tell you their Champions League winning spree gives them that accolade as well.
Add to that the fact they had the two best players on the planet, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and it seemed everyone knew, if either of the sides came calling, a player would leave no matter who they played for. Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid of course, and United were hardly a small-time club – back then at least. Now however, do they still have that pulling power?
The answer would have to be yes for all but one club. Liverpool – right now – are the best club on planet earth, and despite any side who occupied another planet being literally out of this world, you’d bank on Liverpool to be better than them as well.
Ok, so they are having something of a blip, a wobble, call it what you will, right now. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the only thing that seems capable of stopping them winning the Premier League at a canter, and with record points, is Coronavirus.
They won the Champions League last season to boot and despite the loss in the first leg against Atletico Madrid, are most people’s favourites to get past the Spanish side and possibly win it again this season. Compare that to Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Real Madrid were humiliated by Manchester City and look like crashing out. Barcelona are a side in crisis, both in terms of their board, their players and on the field activity – sacking a manager midseason for the first time in nearly two decades and replacing him with someone who may not be up to the job.
Why would any player want to leave a side where they’re all but guaranteed trophies to go to a side who probably don’t deserve to make it past the last 16 of the Champions League? In short, you’d assume they wouldn’t - at least on paper. Yet there are plenty of people who have suggested that the La Liga big guns will come calling for Liverpool’s star men – Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk are the names most commonly mentioned, with Salah almost being expected to depart this summer.
That narrative has never come from Liverpool or Salah – Liverpool don’t need to sell before they can buy and have managed their books incredibly well since FSG took over – unlike some teams we could mention. Salah himself seems to be very happy at the club and has never gone full Paul Pogba and pushed for an exit, so why do fans and the media spend hours talking about his exit?
Such an exit may never come – and certainly might not this summer. Yes, Salah has the Olympics and the AFCON which will impact his time with Liverpool next season, but that’s why they will bring in another forward. It doesn’t mean they’re going to pop him in a white bow and send him to Madrid.
The other consideration is why Salah would even want to play for Real given the way they and Sergio Ramos treated him – but then there is Barcelona as the other alternative. The commercial power of the two clubs and the global profile they bring to players could be a huge reason for wanting to move, but Salah is already a global powerhouse in his own right. He doesn’t need anyone for that.
Then you consider the Ballon d’Or aspect. Well, Liverpool players haven’t done too badly in the last couple of years on those lists – and not playing for Barcelona certainly wasn’t the reason Van Dijk missed out. That was Lionel Messi. Liverpool are a different breed of team right now, and only look like getting better and stronger, so it makes zero sense for a player who is so clearly happy in the city and at the club to leave.
A good therapist will also tell you not to push something or someone away because you’re scared it will leave you – and that’s what some Liverpool fans have been accused of doing this season with Salah. Almost pre-empting his move to Real Madrid or Barcelona – but that’s not a foregone conclusion, it’s just a real shame the media and some fans are talking about it like it is and not enjoying the moment, giving Salah the respect and love he deserves.