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Long read: Why is no one questioning Salah’s decision to play hard-ball with Liverpool?

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Across Merseyside, Liverpool fans fear for the future as City are set to run away with the title again and their now legendary front three – Mo Salah, Bobby Firmino, and Sadio Mane – the former two both scoring at the San Siro last evening, seem likely to leave sometime soon. Most troubling, though, to Reds fans, is the departure of their star striker, Salah. Liverpool’s administration is reluctant to meet new wage demands and almost unequivocally, the footballing world is shaking its heads at the decision.

In October, Salah and his agent requested his wages rise, with some sources suggesting they may be wanting up to £500,000 per week. Liverpool’s owners, FSG, have a rigid salary structure and are, thus far, not playing ball. Salah claims he wants to stay and see out his career with the Reds, but only if his club makes him one of the top-paid players in the world. 

Whilst tabloids shout excitedly about the “eye-watering” figures, most discussion seems to remain morally neutral on the Egyptian’s designs. The conversation surrounds whether he is worth the money relative to other players, whether his age will begin to affect his performance, whether Liverpool can financially accommodate it, and how any decision will affect his teammates. But there’s a glaring omission from pundits and publications alike – Salah’s greed and lack of respect for the club and the fans that made him.

“Sign him up” are the shouts from the Liverpool fans online and in the media, clear in what they want. At Anfield, the fans direct chants to the FSG top man: “John Henry give him what he’s worth… Mo Salah is the best on earth.” It may indeed be ‘Heaven on Earth’ during the Egyptian King’s reign at Anfield, as the 80s tune the chant imitates goes, but should the entire burden of responsibility be on FSG? Why is no one voicing disappointment in Salah’s lack of allegiance? Are we so far gone in our negative expectations of footballers?

The neutrals also don’t seem to raise any questions. Perennial pundits like Graeme Souness think Liverpool should meet his demands. Roy Keane says to FSG “you’ve got to get it done” and Carragher agrees.

Salah currently earns 200,000 per week, making him the 17th highest-paid player in the Premier League. This wage is equal to the anonymous PL footballer who spoke to Football365 about donating the entirety of his weekly wages for the past three years, with millions in the bank leftover.

“If you ask me, I would love to stay until the last day of my football career, but I can’t say much about that – it’s not in my hands,” Salah told Sky Sports.

“It depends on what the club want, not on me. At the moment, I can’t see myself ever playing against Liverpool. That would make me sad.”

Amid the wild speculation that sweeps the footballing world every January, Salah appeared globally on the front cover of GQ Magazine remarking on how the negotiations were going.

“They know what I want. I’m not asking for crazy stuff…

“I’ve been here for my fifth year now. I know the club very well. I love the fans. The fans love me. But with the administration, they have [been] told the situation. It’s in their hands.”

It’s hard to believe Salah’s words, especially when printed adjacent to photographs of himself donning tens of thousands of pounds worth of designer clothing and jewellery, as beautiful as he looks. Whilst he is generally known for his humility and generosity, the figures he is demanding seems to demonstrate immense greed and little sentiment towards the club that made him and the fans that adore him, giving a different meaning to his nickname, ‘The Pharaoh’. Whilst the veneration from his fellow Egyptians make it difficult to separate the hagiography from the man, his charity work is indeed praise-worthy. Perhaps, too, the money is slightly better off in his hands than FSG’s. But at the very least, his disregard for the club and fans is disappointing.

There’s no doubt that it is his preference that he stays. If he continues to perform at this level, he may end up cast in gold outside Anfield for eternity. Yet his stubborn position clearly illustrates that he cares more about the money he receives over the club he’s playing for. If he really wanted to stay at Anfield, it is in his hands and those hands would still be receiving wages that put him in the top five or so best paid players in England, given a reasonable Liverpool counter-offer.

Most media outlets, however, seem happy to conclude that the ‘ball is in Liverpool’s court’. I don’t think the inappropriate sports metaphor is the only thing wrong with this statement.

Perhaps his agent, Ramy Abbas Issa, has him in a legal or emotional bind. After all, agents have not only been growing in influence and revenue, but encroaching further into footballers’ private lives since they first came onto the scene in 1994. As a point in case, when then City striker Mario Balotelli’s house was on fire, he didn’t call 999 first – he called his agent.

In Salahs’ case, though, we can believe that his views are aligned with his agent’s. During his tumultuous time at Chelsea, Salah’s former agent Oliver Kronenbourg was pretty much fired in a tweet from Salah himself. By contrast, Salah is purported to be a close friend of his current agent. Abbas styles himself as Mo’s right-hand man and close friend. In January, he tweeted a cryptic picture of his client laughing – seemingly during contract negotiations – whilst he stands in the background. There’s no doubt they’re speaking the same language.

It goes without saying that Salah is a top player. He’s won two Premier League Golden Boots and is currently leading the race for his third, whilst also having the most assists so far this season. His 2017-18 season saw him make the record for the most goals in the current 38-game season (32). His consistently tier-topping form has brought his club their first top division win in 30 years and a Champions League.

The numbers he’s doing and the service to his club make him arguably the best player in the world right now. And so there is a clear argument in paying him as much as say, Cristiano Ronaldo, who takes home around £485k per week. This is the sense in Salah’s entitlement.

But this ‘sense’ only exists in the context of the limitless greed amongst players and agents in the game. Salah’s requests aren’t “crazy stuff”, as he put it, in the crazy world of modern football. Indeed, Salah knows that another club will meet his demands, even if it ends up being Liverpool’s sworn rivals in Manchester, “sad” as he may be to face his former teammates.

Many question whether NHS nurses, teachers and other hardworking professionals ought to be compensated as much or more than mere entertainers.

The reason they don’t is that we live in a capitalist society and these wages, in the absence of effective regulation, are what the invisible hand of supply and demand has guided us to. Top-flight players (and even those below them) have exceptional, rare talent. They are uniquely talented and, in most cases, have worked uniquely hard at cultivating their talent such that there are no alternative people who can do what they can. These select few make the beautiful game exactly what it is. They entertain and bring joy to billions of fans around the world. Far more people can decide to become a nurse or train to be a teacher, and so the supply is much greater and they command less remuneration.

But to what extent is that true? Can anyone become an NHS nurse or a teacher? Do the people in these professions genuinely possess less rarified talent than the football players? It does take a uniquely resilient spirit, a highly-developed sense of empathy, and many other virtues that are perhaps just as rare as footballing prowess.

Whilst the barrier to entry at these professions is certainly much lower, perhaps the people that excel are perhaps just as rare.

We would all like to live in a world where those that do the hardest and most important work are rewarded the most. The conversation was at its loudest when the pandemic brought football to a halt and fat cat chairmen like Daniel Levy were cutting the wages of non-playing staff whilst players voted to reject a measly thirty percent wage cut they’d barely feel.

It’s a tired, old debate. And not something we can figure out easily. But it seems to be one that we stopped having in the past decade as footballers’ wages went into the stratosphere. Perhaps one thing we know is our attitudes towards footballers, especially those espoused by the media, ought to change. It certainly ought not be the case that when we search for views on the Mo Salah negotiations, the word “selfish” is only used to describe his resistance to passing the ball.

Salah is far from the first footballer to vie for astronomical remuneration. But the conversation surrounding his demands leads me to believe we’ve entered an uncharted level of apathy towards players’ greed. As Kylian Mbappe becomes set to become the best-paid player in the world this summer, I sincerely hope the media wakes up and starts to put pressure on him to use his money altruistically.

Amongst rapists, racists, animal-abusers and cheaters, Salah is usually a relatively wholesome character in the footballing world. He gives money back, doesn’t forget his roots, and seems to have a family life to aspire to. But we should – at the very least – be raising questions about his need for so much money, how he spends it, and his gratitude towards Klopp and his club as a whole. Liverpool fans won’t want to hear it, but if Salah loved his club, he’d accept a slightly smaller raise than he wants. In his own words, “I’ve been here for my fifth year now. I know the club very well. I love the fans. The fans love me.”

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