Liverpool have a problem with Mohamed Salah, but it is one that most clubs would be delighted to have. They have arguably the world's best player right now and he is living up to that billing by scoring in virtually every game that he plays. The only downside for Liverpool is that he has yet to sign a new contract, with his terms expiring in 2023, and every outstanding performance increases the pressure on the club's negotiation team.
The big question now is whether Salah is turning the screw so tightly that he puts Liverpool's American owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), in an impossible situation. Salah would become Liverpool's best-paid player if he agrees a new contract at Anfield, with defender Virgil van Dijk occupying that position right now having signed a new deal in August worth a reported £300,000-a-week.
But as sources told ESPN this week when revealing that Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland will demand wages in excess of £500,000-a-week to sign for one of the many clubs desperate to acquire his services next summer, the cost of having one of the world's best players in your squad is now beginning to rocket and Salah unquestionably deserves to be placed in the same bracket as the likes of Haaland, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Every time Salah scores a big goal or provides a match-winning contribution for Jurgen Klopp's team, he makes himself even more valuable to club, but also further strengthens his own position in those contract talks.
Had football not been hit hard by the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a good chance that Liverpool would have accepted an offer for Salah at the end of last season. The Egypt international has, for a long time, done little to dampen speculation linking him with a move to Spain's LaLiga and FSG's successful business model at Anfield has seen them sign players for relatively low fees and move them on for a profit at the optimum moment. With two years remaining on his contract, the opportunity to raise a huge sum by moving Salah on last summer may have been too tempting for Liverpool to turn down.
When Philippe Coutinho moved to Barcelona for a transfer fee of £142m in January 2018, Liverpool allowed their best player to depart, but smartly reinvested every penny of that fee to sign Van Dijk (£75m from Southampton) and goalkeeper Alisson (£67m from AS Roma). That decision ultimately proved decisive in the club winning the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League a year later.
Liverpool could have followed the same path with Salah, but the harsh financial realities of the pandemic have destroyed the transfer market and no club could raise the transfer fee required to take the 29-year-old away from Anfield. In 2022 it may be a different story, especially if he continues to score seemingly at will, but Liverpool would be making a huge mistake if they prioritise making a profit ahead of the cost of keeping him.
Ronaldo is the Premier League's highest-paid player following his move from Juventus to Manchester United in August, with sources telling ESPN that the 36-year-old earns £480,000-a-week at Old Trafford. Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne had briefly climbed to the top of the pay league by signing a £385,000-a-week contract in April, but Salah and his advisors will have every right to argue that he deserves to eclipse both Ronaldo and De Bruyne's earnings.
As Klopp has said this season, there is nobody better in world football than Salah right now, so it would be a risky move for Liverpool to tell the player that, despite his star billing, he isn't worthy of a pay deal to match that status.
A salary of £30m-a-year for the next four or five years does not fit in with FSG's previous approach to contracts and recruitment, though. For FSG, the player has to have some kind of value at the end of his contract, and they would not see much on a 34-year-old that has just cost them £120m-£150m in wages.
But they have to ask, who could replace Salah and how much it would cost?
Tottenham wanted £150m from clubs wanting to sign striker Harry Kane this summer and Man City refused to pay it, but if that's what it would take to land Kane then Salah is worth quite a bit more for a number of factors.
Salah (102) has more Premier League goals over the past five years than Kane (89), more assists (37 vs. 23), and his fitness record is another crucial factor. Salah has missed just three Liverpool games through injury or illness since arriving from Roma in 2017 while, during the same period, Kane has missed 42 Tottenham matches -- more than an entire season in total. The Egyptian has also become one of the biggest commercial names in football, and much of that is down to playing for a club of Liverpool's global stature, so his potential value is huge.
Quite simply, Liverpool couldn't find a like-for-like replacement for Salah without spending far more than it would cost to keep him. Sign him up for £500,000-a-week for five years and it would still cost Liverpool less than the £150m that Tottenham want for Kane without even factoring in the England captain's wages and the fact he is 28 himself. Even if those numbers make FSG's eyes water, Salah's track record, fitness, understated lifestyle and professionalism, suggest that he will still be a world-class player in five years' time.
Ronaldo is still producing as he approaches his 37th birthday in February and PSG's Messi, at 34, is also far from approaching the final curtain. So the only move which makes football and financial sense for Liverpool is to make Salah the best-paid player in the Premier League. He is proving himself to be worth it every time he sets foot on the pitch.