Mohamed Salah chooses his words carefully - Liverpool’s new power structure has a major decision

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 27: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool warms up before the Premier League match between West Ham United and Liverpool FC at London Stadium on April 27, 2024 in London, England.(Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images)

By declining to speak to the media at West Ham United on Saturday lunchtime, Mohamed Salah in fact spoke volumes. And for a player who has chosen to go on the record in mixed zones - the area where journalists can ask players to stop for interviews - just twice during his near seven-year stint at the Reds, his one-line rejection to the assembled press at the London Stadium was in fact the most he has said in years.

The players are under no obligation to stop and chat after games outside of rights holders like Sky Sports and TNT Sport and they often do so out of courtesy to those reporters who they are familiar with. As a result, Salah, as is his right, has opted more often than not to politely decline the requests that arrive every week without fail. It's become something of a running joke between the player and the journalists who ask out of habit knowing full well the friendly rejection is always incoming.

In 2018, Salah made good on a promise to speak after he reached the 40-goal mark in his debut campaign before he also kept to his words a year later when Liverpool won the Champions League in Madrid. A promise, half given in jest it must be stressed, to chat 'when' the Reds completed a quadruple was also given as he left Wembley as an FA Cup winner in May 2022.

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Since then, Salah - aside from any sit-down interview pre-arranged through either the club or his agent, the Colombian lawyer Ramy Abbas - has avoided going on the record without duress. The Egypt captain is acutely aware of his standing within the game as one of its global superstars and he knows that his words carry weight as a result. They are picked carefully and meticulously and given sparingly. So when Salah speaks, he has something to say and it has meaning.

It is why his offering when walking towards the exit at West Ham United on Saturday afternoon has been pored over by dozens of media outlets and already analysed to the nth degree since.

“There is going to be fire today if I speak," Salah said as he walked through in response to requests from first the ECHO and then the Athletic. When asked to clarify if he did in fact say the word 'fire', he replied: "Of course!"

The incident was caught on film by ESPN Brasil and has since been shared by, among others, Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano, who has over 20m followers on social media platform X.

The phrase has inevitably caused a stir among Liverpool's fanbase but it should also be stressed Salah was in good enough spirits when delivering the words, which came after his touchline spat with Jurgen Klopp when being readied to emerge as a second-half substitute of the 2-2 draw. There was no hint of anger, resentment or frustration from Liverpool's No.11 but an acceptance that anything he could add at that stage would only inflame the situation further. Fire, indeed.

The fallout and subsequent reaction from Salah - if not necessarily Klopp, who attempted to play down the incident - has led to speculation and debate over what happens next for a player who has little over 12 months left on the biggest contract of all time on Merseyside.

Some have pointed to a similar disagreement between Klopp and his then captain Jordan Henderson at Manchester United in 2019 for evidence as to why this might all just be a storm in a teacup. It's a fair point against the deluge of reaction that is keen to paint this latest incident as the point of no return for the relationship of Salah and Klopp.

But for someone who turns 32 in June, there is a legitimate decision to be made for Liverpool's new-look hierarchy and is one that will be made without bias or sentiment around what the Reds' top goalscorer of the Premier League era has previously achieved.

Fenway Sports Group's CEO of football Michael Edwards will be the one at the top of that structure having the final say but opinions from incoming sporting director Richard Hughes and new manager Arne Slot will also hold considerable weight. That being said, what will also be taken into account will be the fact that Salah has largely continued to deliver since signing his three-year extension in the summer of 2022 on the Greek island of Mykonos.

One of the deciding factors around the call to make the frontman the most well-paid player in Anfield history, by a considerable distance, was his own self-belief that he could continue posting the sorts of numbers that enabled him to demand such a princely sum in the first place.

Salah is believed to earn around £350,000 but heavily incentivised to potentially go past £400,000 if certain criteria was met and it was the club's trust in Salah's faith in his own abilities that led to the extension being penned.

Since signing on the dotted line in late June of 2022, the former Roma man has scored 54 times in total and currently stands 26 clear of Robbie Fowler as the Reds' top marksman in the Premier League. There can be little doubt he has justified it from a personal perspective.

There is also the issue of whether or not interest from the Saudi Pro League endures. The club rejected an offer worth up to £150m from SPL champions Al-Ittihad in August and there is a legitimate debate to be had over whether there is appetite in general from both players and clubs in Saudi Arabia to continue what was started last summer, namely a mass exodus of big-name players to eye-watering contracts. There are no European-based teams who will offer what was on the table for Salah last year, that is for certain.

So the big question is will Salah continue to perform beyond next summer? If the answer is no, then a sale must be a priority this summer to help supplement the squad's rebuilding. If the belief is that he will, then negotiations need to be stepped up sooner rather than later.

Recent performances have been a pale imitation of what was shown before a hamstring injury for Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations in January. That problem, for some, has been the catalyst for the downturn. Just 14 of his 41 appearances have come since that setback and only eight have been from the start.

That muscle injury, involvement at AFCON and the lack of form that has followed since have all combined to limit Salah to just 804 of the 2,400 minutes Liverpool have played since he scored twice in a 4-2 win over Newcastle United on New Year's Day.

Those figures point towards an obvious impact of an injury that saw him without a Liverpool start for two and a half months between early January and mid-March, although others have asked whether this is a player now in irreversible decline.

It will be Edwards, Hughes and Slot's job to find out where the truth really lies now with Salah. What happens when they find their answer will be fascinating.