Mamadou Sakho: Why No Nuance In The Great Debate Over Palace’s Liverpool Loan Star?


USUALLY in a two-sided scenario people have an opinion one way or the other.

Often, someone is plain wrong, and someone completely right — such as when someone tells you that the earth is flat. Other situations aren’t so clear. Such as when people go to KFC and some choose beans and others plump for gravy. You may think you’re 100 per cent right about the beans, but the gravy has a lot going for it as well. It isn’t like you can compare choosing beans to thinking that the earth is flat — one has areas of grey, the other is black and white.

Mamadou Sakho’s situation reminds me of all this.

Some people are bizarrely entrenched on Sakho to the point where they sound ridiculous. He’s the greatest defender in the world, say some; people who think he should be first man named in a Liverpool defence. Then you can go right the way down to people who think he’s absolutely rubbish.

The truth is he is neither.

It’s important to point out that neither argument has a leg to stand on here.

Jürgen Klopp didn’t ostracise Sakho because he didn’t think he was good enough to don a red shirt on a regular basis — he ostracised him because:

  • He turned up for pre-season training overweight and minus the requisite fitness levels (as he also did under Brendan Rodgers)
  • He had previously taken a pill to lose weight without approval of club doctors
  • He missed the departure of the plane to the USA in pre-season, turned up late for a session then a meal and was generally pretty disruptive.

“It is how I said, we have some rules and we have to respect them. If somebody doesn’t respect it, or somebody gives me the feeling he is not respecting it, then I have to react, that’s all,” said Klopp last July.

Simply put, Sakho was a pain in Klopp’s arse for about three months.

So he was sent home from San Francisco, turned down August loan moves against the wishes of the manager, was made to train with the Under 23s, had a rant on Snapchat — “I accept my situation but I can’t accept the lie… the fans deserve to know the truth!” — and has now been sent on loan to Crystal Palace where he has been doing well.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise because he’s good enough to play for Liverpool so he’s obviously going to look good at Palace.

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 3, 2016: Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho, with dyed blonde hair, in action against Leicester City during the Premier League International Cup match at St. George's Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Every good game he has is met with a cry of “WHY IS HE NOT HERE?” from the Sakho in-crowd, as if Klopp watched him training and in games and decided he wasn’t for him from a footballing point of view.

Then we end up with bizarre arguments, with people who don’t like him telling those who do that he was rubbish, that he couldn’t pass, that he couldn’t defend and that he just wasn’t very good: “I’m firmly behind Klopp’s decision to get rid of him. He was rubbish.”

That’s great, but that isn’t why the manager shipped him out.

I’m pretty in the middle on Sakho as a player but from a football point of view offloading Sakho has made little sense. I only want to see a footballer leave if he can be categorically improved on and you cannot argue that Liverpool did that last summer.

I’ve stood in a ground at Bournemouth and watch Liverpool capitulate against Benik Afobe with Lucas at centre half, I’ve watched Fernando Llorente and Swansea make Ragnar Klavan look like the average centre back that we signed, and I’ve looked at team sheets for most of the season and wished Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren weren’t made of papier-mâché .

There have been plenty of times when I’ve thought, ‘We could do with Sakho here’. While there are people who just continually shout: “GOOD RIDDANCE, HE WAS CRAP, WE DON’T NEED HIM.”

– LISTEN: Sport psychologist Damian Hughes on creating a culture at a football club

Even though I don’t think Sakho is as good as some paint him, I don’t really understand how anyone can watch him and conclude that he is crap based on both what he did in a red shirt and what you’ve seen this season. Although, saying that, we spent three seasons having people think he couldn’t pass a ball when the reality was that it was probably the strongest part of his game, so I suppose anything is possible.

Liverpool conceded far too many goals last season and I wrote something over the summer saying Klopp would have the right to get rid of any defender that he chooses based on football reasons. But then you remember that Sakho wasn’t offloaded for football reasons and the whole argument becomes bizarre.

People who think the manager doesn’t know a defender, people who think he has no idea how to spot one. “HE WAS CRAP, HIM” versus “HE WAS GREAT, HIM.”

The reality is he’s neither; he’s a decent footballer who contributed quite heavily to a title challenge and a run to the Europa League final. It might well be that if he had been able to defend a little bit better we would have won a title — or that if he could look after himself a little bit better he wouldn’t have been banned for the Europa League Final and we would have won that as well.

The need for such an entrenched view on a player that just doesn’t warrant it is peculiar.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Manchester United FC

If you had  just woken up from a four-year sleep you would be forgiven for being confused as to how two people can look at the same person and think he’s so different. You would listen to one tell you about how we’ve sent the French Paolo Maldini to Crystal Palace, while someone else is in your ear telling you that you should be grateful that you’ve managed to sleep through the second coming of Djimi Traore.

Then you could witness him play and think both people were idiots as you watched a half decent centre half do half decent things loads better than Djimi Traore but nowhere near as good as Paolo Maldini.

Every time he has a good game now people are taking to the internet to tell you about how great he is; about how he’s our best centre back, about how much better off we’d be if we’d kept him.

Whether this is true or not we’ll never, ever know, but Klopp had lost his patience with him. Sometimes a manager and a club as a collective are able to tolerate certain failings in a person because their footballing ability is just so good.

You do this for people like Luis Suarez — you don’t do it for centre backs that aren’t guaranteed to start.

The charge sheet against Sakho was as long as War and Peace and no list of excuses that his fan club are able to put forward should mean that Klopp should have tolerated him.

At least this weekend we’ll be free from a ‘Wasn’t Sakho good there? Why can’t we have still have him?’ conversation given that Palace come to Anfield and the terms of his loan mean he can’t play.

That will be pretty refreshing.

Whether you think Sakho is beans or you think he’s gravy, can you all just jib it now? Maybe all agree to have the sweetcorn instead.

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  1. I think Sakho’s great – I also think he was a knob last summer. He and Matip would be a better defence than Matip and Lovren but at the same time, he was also fairly injury prone himself and clearly has weight issues from his time with us and at PSG.

    If he continues this good form until the end of the season, and comes back in the summer ready and willing to show Klopp that he’s finally a grown up who can be trusted to do what the manager wants, when the manager wants, and he satys, then I’ll be overjoyed. It’s much more likely that he’ll be sold, which makes me sad because he clearly cares about the club and the city.

    Like I say though: he’s obviously a bit of a knob, and if we can improve upon him in the summer (someone with his ability and Lovren’s attitude would be great) then sorry, Mamadou, you goofy bastard, but I wish you all the best in Rome or wherever (but please not in the Prem).

    • Koolhand21

      Matip with Lovren are unbeaten as starters in the league. Bad news, though, is that each has injury issues so it’s only been 14 starts. Sakho played in a defense that gave up 50 goals in a season so, he’s a decent but average defender. We have a back line full of the same so what does he bring that’s better?

  2. It’s all opinions but you can fuck off if you think I’m ever ordering the sweetcorn.

  3. Add in the walkout at Goodison under Rodgers , which I am sure Klopp will be fully aware of, and Sakho has been his own worst enemy.

  4. Heckler&Klopp

    Sakho had a bad hair do too.

  5. Never the sweetcorn.

  6. I hope for his sake that with maturity he can learn how to be a good laugh & a fun dressing room personality without being disruptive and unprofessional.

    He should look no further than Kolo for how to achieve that balance.

    Hypothetically, even if Klopp does forgive him and give him a second chance (unlikely) – I don’t think he solves much: The problem with our defence is not quality, but consistency and the ability to stay injury free. Adding another injury-ridden CB doesn’t help towards getting a solid pair who can play week-on-week and gain an solid understanding of each other’s game.

    I really rate him as a defender, but It looks like we’ll just have to enjoy his antics (good and bad) from afar

  7. Alright defender. Not the best behind the scenes. Didn’t like the “lies” tweet so he can move on.

  8. Met someone who also seriously believes Sakho cost us the league in 2014 by giving Gerrard a poor pass. Incredible.

    I agree with the points made in the article. Would like him back in the squad but he doesn’t necessarily solve all our defensive problems straight away.

    And oh, sweetcorn for me at KFC please. Every time.

  9. Wherever you think Sakho rates in relation to Lovren and Matip, he is clearly a much better option than Klavan and Lucas. Whatever his disciplinary issues are they haven’t stopped him doing the business for Palace. My personal view is that Klopp’s decision has almost certainly cost us points this season So from that point of view, it is hard not to see it as a mistake. But I don’t work with Sakho every day and I also recognise that Klopp hasn’t been waiting for the title for 27 years. He seems to be working to a longer term plan, one which doesn’t involve undisciplined French fatsos.

  10. Michael Barnes

    I fully agree with Phil. Sakho is neither a saint, The Saviour or Satan. He is just a good footballer. There are clearly disciplinary and issues His omission and exclusion illustrates the obsession footballers, managers and football fans have with strikers. We totally undervalue defensive players and overestimate the importance of creative players. It is a huge blind spot which people like ‘Maureen’, Conte and even Rafa have exploited. Truly great managers are able to accommodate different personalities and tolerate mavericks and madmen as long as they can produce on the pitch. Sakho is a better defender than everyone bar Matip! Klopp did not want to be seen to be weak so Sakho was bombed out. It is Liverpool’s loss and the points can never be recouped…

  11. Would he have the right attitude to come back as a squad member and replacement for one of the Matip/Lovren pairing when injured or suspended? Based on past history I would say ‘not so sure’, as his attitude and maturity seem to be the issue.
    Best for him if not, then to go on to Spain, Italy or France.
    If he stays in the Prem then maybe it’s for the money.
    I hope he knuckles down and comes back to Anfield but I will give this only a 25% chance.

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