GUEST: Mo Salah’s new Liverpool contract – who ‘won’ the negotiations?

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By Jamie Barton (@jamieonfootball)

The following is a guest article by the aforementioned author and is not necessarily representative of opinions held by anyone at Empire of the Kop…

You try and find a way of rationalising it. It’s human nature to tell yourself that maybe it’s time. Maybe Jarrod Bowen could match his numbers. Maybe we’d just sign Kylian Mbappé, the world’s highest paid player.

And then 4pm on July 1st happens and all of that just goes away. The news you had just begun to accept would never come, well, comes.

It is only now, with the dust settling, that we ask how on earth both parties were able to agree on something that seemed so unlikely for so long. Did either side ‘win’ the negotiations? And what can this deal tell us about how the club will conduct its business going forward?

To answer these questions, we must first cast our minds back to the summer of 2020. You could have been forgiven then, as the entire world collapsed in front of our very eyes, for not thinking too much about Mo Salah’s Liverpool contract.

Behind the scenes, however, Ramy Abbas Issa had just received some bad news. Due to Covid-induced uncertainty around finances, Liverpool were not interested in opening talks over a new deal for his client.

It would not take long for Salah to speak up, and a season that had already been so disappointing for the club was further disturbed by the Egyptian’s frequent references to what life after Anfield might be like. Before negotiations had even begun, it appeared that relations were far from cordial.

We can deduce that talks did finally begin in the summer of 2021. In May, Salah told Sky Sports that “no one in the club is talking to me about anything so I do not know”.

By August, however, James Pearce of The Athletic reported that negotiations were already underway. It is logical to assume that the club intended to tie the Egyptian down as part of an off-season which also saw new deals for the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Andy Robertson.

However, given what we now know about Salah’s eventual deal, it is not hard to see signs of trouble in what was written about Liverpool’s opening offer.

The Athletic reported, for example, that the Merseysiders ‘won’t rip up the wage structure that has served the club so well’. One agent with close ties to the club added ‘You’d expect him to be the top earner at the club, but not by too much’.

We know now of course, that Salah would not be too pleased with these sorts of notions. Cue a season like no other in the Egyptian’s Liverpool career, where his ability to shape entire football games to his will was matched in intensity only by almost-weekly reminders that this could be the very last time we see him.

It was clear that it had begun to become personal for Salah, who said in December that ‘Your financial value shows how much the club appreciates you and that they are ready to do anything for you to stay’.

That same month, Abbas had flown to Miami to meet Mike Gordon for further negotiations. It is suggested that Salah was looking to become the sixth- best paid player in the world, which would work out at around £400,000 a week including bonuses.

The club were only prepared to offer a 15% rise on his then-current £200,000 deal. It would be the last time the two parties would meet until a few weeks ago. Still, it appears that, following these unsuccessful talks, Liverpool were finally beginning to understand what they would have to do to have any chance of retaining their star player.

James Pearce wrote on Boxing Day that ‘Liverpool accept they will have to break the ceiling of their current wage structure to keep Salah’, a definite shift from the club’s stance only a few months earlier that they would not ‘rip up the wage structure that has served the club so well’. Was Abbas’ hard and fast stance beginning to reap rewards?

READ MORE: Liverpool make move to snap up 22-year-old Man Utd target as Ten Hag’s men balk at asking price – Football Insider

How fitting it was that the Colombian lawyer, Liverpool Twitter’s favourite pantomime villain, would be the one who finally broke the silence on his client’s new contract.

As more and more information on the deal comes to light, it is difficult to escape the sense that the Egyptian ‘won’ the negotiations.

Pearce has claimed that both sides made compromises, and The Times’ Paul Joyce writes that ‘Liverpool insist the deal will fit in with their existing financial model’, but the simple numbers do not seem to agree. Liverpool’s number 11 now earns £350,000 as a basic wage, a whopping £130,000 more than van Dijk, the club’s next-highest paid player.

If that does not qualify as ripping up your wage structure, then what does? Bonuses mean that Salah will likely earn closer to £400,000 a week, a figure that would see him become, well, exactly what he had been asking for the whole time – the sixth-best paid player in the world.

Of course, one key piece of information we have not touched on is that the man who closed this deal for Liverpool is not the same man who opened it.

It is entirely possible that if Michael Edwards were still at Liverpool, Mo Salah might not be.

Julian Ward’s first summer as sporting director has certainly been a lively one, and there is already the sense in the business that he has conducted so far that the club might be going in a new direction in their negotiation strategy.

While Edwards was famed for his hardline stances, there are elements of compromise in all of the major deals struck by the club in this off-season. It is fair to say that, regardless of how well he goes on to do, the €100 million the Reds paid to Benfica for Darwin Nunez came as something of a surprise.

Sadio Mane ended up departing to Bayern Munich for £10 million less than it was briefed Liverpool were looking for. Even the £50 million Ward agreed to pay Porto for Luis Diaz in January, which now looks like a steal, at the time felt like a sizeable outlay for a 25-year-old who had never played in Europe’s top five leagues.

Therein may lie Ward’s strategy – with players like Diaz, Nunez and Salah, have you really ‘lost’ the negotiations if they make you more likely to win where it really matters?

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