IT was revealed yesterday afternoon that Mamadou Sakho had been told that he has to find a loan club in order to play regular first team football, as he is unlikely to find it with the Reds. Many have hoped that there would be a solution to this farrago, but it seems that the club have held firm and told him to go and sort out his head, his fitness and, most significantly of all, his professionalism.
Sakho occupies a strange, perhaps even unwarranted, place in Liverpool hearts. The fans — in the main — love him. His name is sung whenever he clears a ball, or a player out, or yells at someone. He has a frightening expression when bawling out referees and he loves a goal celebration. Personally, he took my heart when he referred to us as ‘the Liverpool country’ after the Borussia Dortmund game. Of course, this could have been a mistranslation delivered after that high octane, blood-pumping screamathon of a game, but he got me on board with that. Liverpool fans — and even just residents of the city with no interest in the game — see Liverpool as a country rather than a city, playing second fiddle to the larger conurbations of the UK. If we could print passports we would. Engexit, as it were.
The same could be said of the manager. Universally loved, funny, wry and 100% committed to the red cause. In the event of us being tested on the highest stage, these are the lads you want to stand behind. True, we haven’t won anything yet but the foundation is there.
But then it all went wrong. The self-imposed ban for taking a fat burner, missing the final (where Kolo Toure was great — something that was conveniently overlooked in May’s ‘let’s sue UEFA’ talk) and being sent home from the pre-season tour, after being publicly admonished during Jürgen Klopp’s press conference. Mamadou’s stock fell, and then plummeted to new lows.
This contretemps has confused many fans, as we’ve always believed wholeheartedly in the notion that both men are magnificent in their sheer Redness. Now one has called out the other and there is this rush to pick sides. You have to do no such thing, of course, but there’s a greater good which must be served — the greater good of Liverpool Football Club. Liverpool come first. Always.
So this is an unusual situation. At time of writing Liverpool have no direct replacement for the Frenchman and seem happy enough to go into the season with just Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Joel Matip as the first choices, with maybe Lucas Leiva filling in when needed as he did last season. We’re one hamstring tweak away from being in Tiago Ilori territory, kids.
Let’s look at a nightmare scenario. If Alberto Moreno and, say, Matip run into each other in training there’s a chance that two of our back four for Manchester United away will comprise of James Milner at left back and Lucas in the centre. How the hell has that been allowed to happen? Why have the club reduced their defensive options by shoving Sakho out of the door?
Everything must be done to ensure that his shirt is filled if the club and Klopp are determined to play hardball. As yet there’s no news on anything like that unless we’re trying to send Jim White into paroxysms of joy with a late swoop for Gerard Pique by the time Pointless finishes. Maybe Jürgen has something up his sleeve. I bloody hope so.
At present the decision to give Sakho a gap year seems to be one almighty gamble and yet…
Part of me is absolutely made up that we’ve done this.
I love it when the club hierarchy start shouting about being fit for purpose. It means that there are things we take seriously and for too long this has just been a bit of a laugh.
I’m tired of players messing around. I’m sick of Instagram accounts, and “lols” and “bantz”. I like Sakho. I really do. I think there’s a player there, but seeing him with a koala bear or a paintbrush doesn’t make me love him the more. Ian Broudie from The Lightning Seeds was once asked how he felt while, in the mid-1990s, he bumped into Steve McManaman in a bar and was asked over for a drink. He said that he didn’t want a drink. He didn’t want a chat with Macca. He wanted him to be doing press ups in his spare time. I’m totally on-board with that view.
Sakho, though exonerated, took something without the express permission of the club doctors at the business end of the season. He missed the Euros too and then showed up late for pre-season engagements, which are by far and away the most important weeks of the entire campaign. Those are not the actions of a man who wants to bust a gut for Liverpool. True, he puts in the lot when he’s on the pitch but he’s clearly gone too far somewhere in his manager’s eyes.
With 38 cup finals to play, and a chance of the league (given the managerial changes around the top four), we can’t be seen to be pissing about. Liverpool should be relentless in their search of a league championship. Absolutely relentless. Everything they do, every day should be geared towards that target and that target alone. Liverpool should be single-minded at all times.
So when a man who has captained the club takes a fat burner when there’s more than a fair chance he’s going to be tested, that goes against the programme. When he’s done that and still turns up late despite breaking club rules in the past, you start to wonder.
One of Gerard Houllier’s greatest achievements was to eradicate that sort of culture from the club. When he arrived, mobiles were banned from Melwood, the argumentative Paul Ince was shown the door and nights out were limited. The result? A squad of talented individuals got better and won trophies.
But if he’s the best defender we’ve got (my Twitter timeline was pretty furious when I suggested otherwise) do you overlook those peccadillos for the good of the club? I’m not sure, but I can see why not. He’s a captain. A leader in the dressing room. He’s influential. Or, leastways, he was. If he’s unruly and his attitude is poor it could be viewed as a precedent. How far would we be from the lolz of the ‘pass the pound’ game that characterised Neil Ruddock’s tenure here?
But maybe there’s more to it than Sakho’s transgression. When researching this I looked at the Echo website and watched a short video of John Aldridge giving his views on the issue. It began with the Nivea ad which includes Jordan Henderson and Klopp pissing about in the name of skin cream. It made me wonder if Mamadou wasn’t the only employee who needed to re-focus on the demands set by the fans.
Do it as individuals by all means (as Kevin Keegan did a generation ago) but not next to my badge, eh, lads? Do it when we’re streets ahead in the league and the hard work is done. Is there any real difference between this and posing with a koala bear?
Sakho’s crime is the greater, of course, inasmuch as he actively broke club rules, but hopefully this will be the first step to laying down the law and focusing our minds on what we can achieve, rather than what we look like to the world of social media, where clicks and remote engagement is king. There are press ups to be done. Lots of press ups.
As for Sakho, he’s a big lad and he’ll come back from this. We all need a kick up the arse from time to time and as long as he learns from all this he’ll be fine. Maybe the club can too, if they can find a replacement who can match, and even exceed, the Frenchman’s ability.
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