Sadio Mane’s exit for Bayern Munich and Darwin Nunez’s arrival at Liverpool is a story of team evolution and how a daunting task was made easier with clever methodology…
Over the past week there has been talk suggesting the signing of Darwin Nunez spelled the end of Sadio Mane’s career at Anfield.
Ahead of the Champions League final, Mohamed Salah’s assertion that he would stay at Liverpool this summer sparked the same rhetoric: a fresh start for the Senegal international.
While securing a top-flight replacement and not wanting to lose two world-class strikers in a free next year is part of the context of Mane’s switch to Bayern Munich, the truth is that his exit was a possibility.
The reason is simple: Evolution – on behalf of the player and of Liverpool. Mane was the first transformer of the Jurgen Klopp era and the club’s successes over the past six years have been due in large part to his contributions on and off the ball.
Mane has gained a new challenge, environment and responsibility as Liverpool continue their process of team progression without being heavily clouded by sentiment.
In 2018, when the club prioritized a retention policy and tied Roberto Firmino, Salah and Mane to new long-term contracts, they visualized a number of scenarios.
The best case scenario was to maximize the trio’s early years as the team grew together and lifted the silverware, before a measured rebuild took place.
There was a realization that football’s top predators in the market – Real Madrid, Barcelona and new Paris Saint-Germain – might be willing to pay staggering sums to land one of the coveted trios.
If the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t depressed the market, aligned with the La Liga giants’ financial crisis and the emergence of Kylian Mbappe, the above seemed like the most likely outcome. A big sale would have funded Liverpool’s next phase perfectly, just as Philippe Coutinho’s exit at Camp Nou did.
The club were convinced that Barca would try to sign Firmino and as such inserted a clause in Coutinho’s agreement stating that the Catalans would have to pay a €100m premium above any valuation if they were trying to lure another player from Anfield before 2020.
Another scene envisioned was that their standout players would earn enough silverware and devote so much of themselves to the club that they would naturally seek a new challenge.
Whatever happened, Liverpool were sure of an outcome: they would have to build the ‘next big team’ while remaining competitive.
Former sporting director Michael Edwards circled this for the first time after winning the Champions League in 2019 and the recruitment team, despite their support to achieve this, had always considered the attack the most trying to reshape.
Firmino, Salah and Mane were the machine that powered Liverpool’s blitzes, before adapting to become safe bets when a more rounded, possession-based approach materialized.
They worked well together, worked well for each other and worked Klopp’s plan to the end. The emotional connection for the trio within the team, among the staff and with the fan base would also increase the difficulty of rejuvenation.
Yet within 20 months, and thanks to the expertise of Edwards’ successor Julian Ward, Liverpool recruited Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez to lead the forward line.
This was achieved without disruption, hassle and at a combined initial cost of £142m.
Jota and Diaz have already proven to be incredible value and Nunez is determined to continue that trend.
Mane leaves as a Liverpool legend, with the club’s blessing and deepest gratitude. They would have liked to cash in more, at least £5m beyond the £35.1m package dropped by Bayern, but his desire to only move to the Allianz, his high performance years, the solid relationship between the clubs and the fluid negotiation of Thiago. leads to a happy compromise.
It says a lot about Liverpool’s methodology and foresight that they hand over one of the best players in the world – a Ballon d’Or contender – without it appearing to crush the club’s ambitions.
Salah’s situation is the next conundrum to solve, and although the threat of going free for a Premier League rival is regularly leaked from its end as a negotiating tactic, Liverpool remain calm about the present and the future.
Their low-key discussions with Kylian Mbappe, despite this transfer never being financially viable (nor politically possible as Real found out), reveal a club doing due diligence on all plausible scenarios – as was the case in 2018 .
Liverpool were measured, which is why the extent and effectiveness of their refresh and the exit of such an exemplary player seemed like another story rather than a saga.
Liverpool fixtures: Reds start at Fulham
Liverpool begin the 2022/23 Premier League campaign with a lunchtime trip to newly-promoted Fulham on Saturday August 6.
This will be the fourth season in a row that Liverpool have started a new campaign against a Premier League newcomer.
But having next faced Crystal Palace, Jurgen Klopp’s side will face Man Utd at Old Trafford on August 20.
September will include away trips to Everton and Chelsea in September and Liverpool will also face back-to-back clashes against Arsenal and champions Man City on October 8 and 15 respectively.
Liverpool’s last game before the season is temporarily halted for the Winter World Cup will be against Southampton at Anfield on November 12 before returning to action at Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
The Reds then host rivals United on March 4, before awkward clashes on back-to-back weekends at City (April 1) and against Arsenal at Anfield (April 8), before ending the season at Southampton.
Follow the summer transfer window with Sky Sports
Who will be on the move this summer when the transfer window opens on June 10 and closes at 11 p.m. on September 1?
Keep up to date with all the latest transfer news and rumors in our dedicated Transfer Hub blog at Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up on the ins, outs and analysis at Sky Sports News.