Sadio Mane has left Liverpool for Bayern Munich and there are doubts over Mohamed Salah’s long-term future but little has been said over another forward player at the club who is out of contract next summer
In all the frantic analysis of fraught contract situations at Liverpool, one man seems to have been singularly forgotten by the Anfield faithful.
With Sadio Mane essentially forced to leave in pursuit of what he perceived as his true worth, and Mohamed Salah now increasingly likely to follow suit next summer, there has not been so much intrigue over contracts at the club since the early years of Bosman free transfers and Steve McManaman’s tortuous departure.
That – genuinely – included an official offer from the club to the Scouse winger literally scribbled on a scrap of paper and handed over folded, almost as if it had been scratched on the back of a fag packet.
If that was true farce, then negotiations over the past year with such key players have suggested the merest hint of it, with such important issues left apparently undecided for so long. Salah, of course, dominated the headlines, with his spiky agent’s barbed tweets. Yet it transpired that served merely to obscure what was some detailed planning over many months for the departure for Mane, with the player and club both clearly accepting the outcome.
Which brings us to the forgotten man of Anfield. With Liverpool’s fabled front three now broken up, and Salah surely next in line to exit, then the focus finally turns to Roberto Firmino, the last of Jurgen Klopp’s formidable trio of goalscorers. Since they came together in the summer of 2017, the three have produced no fewer than 338 goals for Liverpool, and – astonishingly – 495 goal contributions in total. Over five years, that is miraculous.
And Firmino was integral to that, with Mane making special mention, when he departed, of the Brazilian’s unselfish work which gave him and Salah the space to work and finish. If he never quite possessed the glamour of the two other stars – a Hollywood smile apart – then his work rate and ability to orchestrate Klopp’s famous gegenpressing will probably define the German manager’s era at Anfield. So what happens to him now, with the club so clearly wary of making expensive mistakes in giving out contracts to players who have hit the 30 mark? Just like Salah and Mane, Firmino has not extended, despite approaching the final year of his contract.
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He will be 31 in October too. That suggests there will be no resolution to any talks in the near future, though perhaps not for the same reasons as the other two members of the front three. Both, perhaps rightly, believe they are amongst the best in the world and deserve a new contract to reflect it…with the sort of money Kevin de Bruyne is on of around £370,000 a week their benchmark. Firmino will not be asking for anywhere near that, but he will want an extension to take him deeper into his 30s. Klopp, of course loves him, and would want him to stay, saying only recently: “Bobby Firmino is what makes Liverpool special.”
Firmino too, despite less opportunities in the past 12 months with the arrival of Diogo Jota and then Luis Diaz, would surely be happy to sign a new deal, even if it meant taking some sort of pay cut, or at least a contract that was more incentive based, which Liverpool’s owners are particularly keen on. The key though, will be his injury situation. Look at the last year; four separate injuries, mostly muscle related, but one troubling foot injury, saw him miss 16 Premier League games, six Champions League matches (including the two semi final legs) and four other cup games, including the EFL Cup final.
Whereas he missed just two Premier League games in total in the TWO seasons prior to 2021-22, in the season just finished he managed only 20 games, making just 10 starts. That is a troubling record for a player who is no longer an automatic starter, with Jota frequently preferred ahead of him, and then Diaz preferred ahead of Jota. With the arrival of Darwin Nunez, then his opportunities will surely be limited even further, given the new forward likes to operate through the middle…a position where Jota too has excelled.
Yet to write Firmino off is folly. He showed as a substitute in the Champions League final he can still be influential, and though hindsight is a wonderful thing, there was a case to be made for him to have started. Klopp loves having him around, and so do his team-mates…even if the media are rather over the joke of his English not being good enough – after seven seasons – for him to conduct interviews. He loves the club, and (along with James Milner and Joe Gomez) is the second longest serving current player behind Jordan Henderson. And perhaps it is Milner, who joined at the same time in the summer of 2015, who will show the way.
Given his injury record, Liverpool will undoubtedly be cautious, and have their immaculate analytics team look at his performance closely to see if there is any underlying trend. They will have done that over the past season, but perhaps will take another to decide whether to give him a new deal, and if the thumbs up come from Klopp and the analysts, then as with Milner, offer short term deals. There is no sentiment in football, and as the departure of Mane showed – and Gini Wijnaldum a year earlier – there is certainly no sentiment when it comes to Liverpool’s forensic accounting of their finances. But Firmino is still a top class forward, who seems able to spend time on the bench without complaint, and given he won’t be asking for a huge pay rise, that could suit Klopp and the club for a few years more, especially if they can manage his game time to prevent injury.
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