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comment Salah is already a Liverpool legend – letting him leave on a free transfer would be madness

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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Porto with Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Porto with Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Porto with Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Reuters

The heartfelt tributes to Roger Hunt following his passing are a reminder that the best footballers are often most appreciated long after they stop playing.

Jurgen Klopp said recently you cannot be called a legend until after retirement. There is a tendency to hesitate before recognising true greatness when it is in front of us, and the bittersweet reality is that sometimes only in death is a player’s legacy fully acknowledged.

Occasionally, we must take more pleasure from those in the modern era who are so freakishly good, they deserve to be spoken about as reverentially as the greats of the past. Mohamed Salah is such a footballer.

If anyone assembles an all-time greatest Liverpool XI, Salah’s name must now be in it. In four full seasons, he has ensured he will be forever in such exalted company as Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard, Ian Rush and John Barnes, his two goals against Porto in midweek meaning he has eight in eight games this season, and 38 goals or assists in 45 Champions League games. His overall Liverpool tally is 133 goals in 211 games.

Should he stay for another four years, Salah will be close to matching Hunt’s 285 for the club, only Rush above him in the all-time goalscoring list. These are insanely impressive numbers for someone who does not play as a central striker. Yet as things stand, Salah (pictured) may not be at Anfield beyond his current contract in 2023.

There is a presumption that the impasse in talks for a new deal will be resolved, the club and his representative compromising to ensure the Egyptian commits until he is 33 years old. There is no sign that is imminent. Worryingly, it is possible Salah will leave on a Bosman free transfer.

It would be a serious mistake to let the situation drag on that far.

I understand it is not as straightforward as saying “just give the player what he wants” without thoroughly considering the financial consequences. As ex-players, fans and media, we cannot on the one hand condemn our clubs for risking economic stability, or exploring contentious means of increasing revenue, while on the other demanding they pay ‘whatever it takes’ to sign £100 million players or sanction record salaries. The cash has to come from somewhere.

It is well documented how Liverpool run their business, and they do not want to set precedents that will cause long-term financial damage by agreeing wages in excess of £400,000-a-week. Handing such a four-year deal to Salah, for example, represents a commitment of around £83.2m (€97.25m). There will be a calculation that if his level significantly drops after he turns 30, the club might be stuck with a high earner who is draining resources.

My counter-argument is that exceptional players warrant being treated as an exception.

Everything about Salah suggests that unless he suffers serious injury, he is in such perfect physical shape and such a professional on and off the pitch, he will still be producing until he is 33, and probably for a couple of years beyond that. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are an inspiration to their peers, showing how the early 30s are no barrier to enduring excellence.

Even at Anfield, Liverpool have James Milner, who is about to turn 36. Okay, Milner is not as regular a starter as he once was, nor is he the highest-paid footballer in the Premier League, but as he showed against Porto in midweek – and will be expected to do again against Manchester City tomorrow – his conditioning work over two decades means he can still perform at the highest level. There is good cause to believe Salah will do likewise at the same age.

I have said many times I admire FSG for transforming Liverpool’s recruitment policy. They get so much right. But surely once you have helped nurture one of the world’s best – and made him a positive global symbol of your club – you want to cherish that and channel resources to keep him for all of his peak, goalscoring years?

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To me, that’s what the recent and upcoming stadium expansions and commercial deals are for – recruiting well and being in a position to retain the best when their market value demands a lucrative new contract. FSG have done so recently with Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker. Klopp vowed captain Jordan Henderson’s deal would “get sorted” after a brief stalemate and it immediately was, yet says he is ‘not involved’ with Salah’s negotiations.

That seems odd. If there is a sound reason for not resolving the Salah contract situation with the same urgency, it is yet to be satisfactorily explained.

Whenever we talk about Liverpool’s renaissance, we often focus on the influence of Van Dijk and Alisson, taking the team to another level. That’s fair, but we should not forget that the foundations were in place because of the immediate impact of Salah, who was already on his way to scoring 44 goals in his first season when Van Dijk signed.

He has not stopped and always produces at the biggest moments. Look at all those Champions League nights, including the 2019 final, and the most intense and important games against Manchester City, Chelsea or Manchester United.

That influence separates Salah from predecessors such as Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, who delivered wonderful moments but not the biggest prizes. It is sometimes claimed Salah does not receive as much love from The Kop as Torres and Suarez. The main difference is the current team has so many heroes, the adoration is shared. That gives the perception he is still not appreciated enough.

Salah’s agent has a compelling argument for expecting his client to be paid a salary worthy of the most valuable Premier League players like Kevin De Bruyne. He is entitled to believe Salah ought to be rewarded for what he has done so far for Liverpool, helping the club earn millions in Premier League and UEFA prize money, allied to the promise of what he will go on to achieve this season, next and – if a deal is struck – a further two years.

Equally, in the search for a middle ground, perhaps Salah and his representatives must acknowledge Liverpool helped him fulfil his potential as much as he has helped Liverpool fulfil theirs.

Where would he go that would suit him as perfectly as Anfield? Only Man City, United and PSG can afford the kind of mega salary Salah is hoping for. Would they pay him that when he is 31 in 2023? Would Salah really want to join one of the Manchester clubs and tarnish his Anfield legacy?

Twenty-five years from now, fans will examine this era and consider how lucky they were to witness Salah’s goal feats. They will rewatch the videos and see his statistics with a sense of awe.

I hope they will not look back and ask this: “Why on earth did he leave before he had a chance to beat Roger Hunt’s record?”

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