Liverpool face a series of crucial issues within their squad in the upcoming months. While the focus during the summer transfer window revolved around acquiring high-class external talent, the attention now shifts to addressing concerns within the existing Anfield roster.
Despite successfully integrating summer arrivals such as Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Ryan Gravenberch, and Wataru Endo, Liverpool’s current standing as Premier League leaders owes much to the performance of players already familiar with Anfield.
Virgil van Dijk has regained his imperious form since assuming the captain’s armband from Jordan Henderson, solidifying the defense and contributing to the league’s best record with only 18 goals conceded in 20 games.
Mohamed Salah continues to lead Liverpool’s goal-scoring charts, being the sole player to reach double figures. His tally of 18 goals positions him as a strong contender to surpass the 30-goal mark upon his return from the Africa Cup of Nations.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, elevated to the role of vice-captain by Jurgen Klopp, has notably elevated his performance in the hybrid full-back position. Displaying creativity from more central areas, he remains a pivotal force within the team.
However, a shared concern emerges as all three players—Van Dijk, Salah, and Alexander-Arnold—are set to be out of contract in the summer of 2025, leaving less than 18 months on their current deals. This contractual situation poses a significant challenge for Liverpool, and even if decisions are deferred until the summer, the complexity of navigating these negotiations is expected to intensify as 2024 progresses.
The pivotal aspect surrounding Salah’s agreement, elevating him to the highest-paid player in Anfield history in June 2022, was the confidence in his ability to maintain excellence well into his 30s.
At the time of the deal, insiders highlighted Salah’s unwavering self-belief in sustaining top-tier performance, prompting Liverpool, particularly owners Fenway Sports Group, to place trust in the player’s assurances.
Since inking the deal with a weekly earning of approximately £350,000, Salah has notched an impressive 48 goals for the Reds, solidifying his status as the all-time leading scorer in both Premier League and European competitions. Recently, he surpassed the 200-goal mark at Anfield.
Leading both Premier League goal and assist charts with 14 goals and eight assists respectively, Salah’s remarkable numbers influenced Liverpool owner Mike Gordon to reject a lucrative £150m offer from Al-Ittihad in August.
He will be 32 when he enters the final year of his record-breaking contract, negotiations with his representative Ramy Abbas were challenging in 2022. However, Salah’s professionalism and commitment to his craft support the belief that extending his contract was the right decision.
As fans anticipate Salah’s return from the AFCON, where he’s expected to continue his stellar form, questions linger about his future beyond the summer of 2025. Liverpool’s willingness to sustain high wages for a player in his mid-30s and potential external interest from Saudi Arabia add intrigue to the contract discussions.
While Salah, settled in the North West with his family, may not show a clear desire to move to Saudi Arabia, the challenges faced by former teammates Henderson and Firmino post-transfer might influence considerations. Negotiator Ramy Abbas, true to his prerogative, continues the quest for the optimal deal for his esteemed client.
Virgil van Dijk
Similar to Salah, Captain Van Dijk faces inquiries about his contract as he enters his early 30s. However, his career trajectory suggests that he may not have accumulated as many playing miles as some of his counterparts.
Unlike Salah, Van Dijk’s consistent participation in Champions League football commenced only after joining Anfield in 2018. His limited exposure during his two years at Celtic, with just five appearances in Europe’s premier competition, coupled with the less demanding nature of Scottish top-flight football, contrasts sharply with his pivotal role for the victorious Reds.
In essence, Van Dijk’s ascent to prominence was relatively late. Despite approaching 33 in June, the center-back’s senior professional appearances amount to only 313, averaging 26 games per season. This figure is influenced by an ankle injury at Southampton in January 2017 and a season-ending knee injury against Everton in October 2022.
While the latter injury sparked debates, Van Dijk’s current form and the absence of setbacks since his comeback in the summer of 2021 offer reasons for optimism. His naturally laid-back playing style, coupled with meticulous fitness routines that include late-night physio and recovery sessions, are likely to contribute to his longevity.
Notably, the enduring success of defenders like Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Mats Hummels, Sergio Ramos, and Thiago Silva well into their 30s and beyond underscores that age is not a hindrance for top-tier defensive minds. This context provides valuable insights for Van Dijk as he navigates contract discussions, and Klopp’s decision to entrust him with the captain’s armband suggests a long-term perspective rather than a short-term transition to Alexander-Arnold in the coming years.
Van Dijk’s deputy, Alexander-Arnold, occupies a distinct position at 25, diverging from his teammates in career trajectory. Despite the variance, his fervent ambition to eventually assume the role of club captain bodes positively.
Speculations of ongoing negotiations between the club and the player were emphatically rebuffed in August. However, the escalating significance of Alexander-Arnold within the squad, both as a player and a respected voice within the leadership committee, undoubtedly positions him for a substantial upgrade in terms compared to his 2021 summer signing.
“The state the club is in and where I’m at in my career is always a good option for me,” he said at the time in words that could easily be echoed today. “To extend and make sure I’m here longer is always a good thing. I’m made up.
“It’s the only club I’ve ever really known, so to be here for this amount of time and extending to be here for a longer amount of time is amazing for me and my family.”
The defender, originally from West Derby, has consistently expressed his aspiration to eventually assume the role of Liverpool captain without reservation. However, it may be prudent not to assume that this overarching ambition is universally acknowledged within the club.
Liverpool faced a memorable scenario in the aftermath of their 2005 Champions League triumph, wherein the revered Steven Gerrard began to feel undervalued. Eventually, he seriously considered offers from Chelsea. Those holding pivotal positions within the club may find that a proactive approach could prove more advantageous in the long term.
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