By Umarah Naz.
The long running Mamadou Sakho saga finally came to a close on transfer deadline day, when Crystal Palace snapped up the French international on loan for the remainder of the season.
This ended six months of furious speculation that had divided the Reds everywhere.
Sakho versus Jurgen Klopp has been battle that has intrigued and torn Liverpool fans in equal measure.
Both men boast their own huge following which made the situation all the more complicated. On the one hand, there’s a centre-back who was building up somewhat of an iconic status around Anfield. On the other, is the manager we had all been yearning, in fact begging for. A world class addition to a squad that desperately needed a leader from the top echelons of management. It was impossible to choose sides here.
Sakho endeared fans by saying the right things and doing them too. Whether that be mesmerising us with his “Liverpool country” comment, eye-poppingly squaring up to opponents during games or his commendable charity work. His undoubted passion on and off the pitch convinced many that he should be the next Liverpool captain. Someone to carry the club through the ups and downs.
His ability as a defender should be without doubt, but many fans didn’t give him the respect he deserved as a player. This could be attributed to his inconsistencies with his performances.
A spell of games would reaffirm why he was France’s first choice centre-back and captain but, at times, he would produce equally poor displays which left many unconvinced.
Despite this, Jurgen Klopp seemed to favour him alongside Dejan Lovren, and at the back end of last season the pair had struck up a famous bromance. One that would be remembered, most notably, for their exploits against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter finals in the Europa League. The connection was palpable between the two and Liverpool, for the first time in a long while, were beginning to look solid at the back.
But, we are Liverpool, and good things rarely last long. Just days after the euphoria of a last-minute winner on a memorable European night, Sakho was reported to have failed a drugs test taken after the team’s Europa League triumph over Manchester United the previous month. The rest you all know.
Not consulting the club before taking diet pills put Sakho firmly on the path out. The first cracks in his Liverpool career had begun to appear.
He missed the Europa League final, which proved costly for Liverpool, and the Euros because of a provisional UEFA ban. However, the case against him was dismissed by UEFA in July but the damage had already been done. The unnecessary time out frustrated Liverpool fans and Sakho became even more loved due to the unjust treatment he received.
He joined the team on a pre-season tour of the USA, despite carrying an injury, but his antics in the States further riled Klopp. The only information made public was that he was late for the flight, missed a key rehab session, and a team meeting.
This “lack of respect” was enough for management to send him home. But that was not all. Sakho took to Snapchat to air his frustrations and made implications that “lies” were told by the club. Klopp felt this to be the last straw, and the defender was told he could leave. He chose to stay and fight but was banished to the under-23 squad. It seemed Sakho had met his match in Klopp.
The manager refused to back down even when the centre-back situation was crying out for Sakho. It was a bold statement when Lucas Leiva was chosen at his expense.
Klopp’s refusal to include Sakho in his plans reeked of stubbornness. It seemed to be Klopp’s way of putting a marker down to the whole squad that he was not to be messed with. If he could banish one of the squad’s best defenders then everyone had better watch out.
Over the fifteen months with the German in charge he has made it clear time and time again that he values attitude above everything. Professionalism and hard work seem to be his primary concerns and, if players show that in abundance, he’s willing to bend over backwards for them.
Sakho had apparently breached Klopp’s rules one too many times. In a recent interview, the defender revealed that he was fined and had apologised to everyone for those breaches, but didn’t delve any further into the “controversies” as he referred to them.
Liverpool have continued to show their frailties in defence over the course of the season, and one can’t help but wonder if Klopp’s refusal to pick Sakho has come at a cost.
There’s no denying Sakho’s quality. It’s no easy feat being first-choice for one of the best international teams in the world. But, oddly, that may be one of the reasons why Klopp put his foot down. No one is bigger than the team, egos have to be left at home and respect is of paramount importance.
It seems that Klopp’s long term plan is to build a team spirit that no one dare jeopardise, and if that takes time, costs points and loses him support for now, then so be it. For long term success, short term casualties are inevitable.
Nonetheless, it’s sad to see Sakho fall so hard. He’s now preparing to train with relegation-threatened Palace, will have to deal with Sam Allardyce on a daily basis, and looked so much better in red.
That’s a harsh punishment to endure.
Those who still hold a torch for Sakho will insist it’s just a loan and there may be a way back in the summer. But, most probably, that ship has sailed. Klopp is the boss and he’s making sure everyone knows it.