Sadio Mane’s exit for Bayern Munich and Darwin Nunez’s entry into Liverpool is a story of team evolution and how a taxing task was made straightforward by smart methodology …
Over the past week, there has been discourse suggesting the signing of Darwin Nunez spelled the end of Sadio Mane’s Anfield career.
Prior to the Champions League final, Mohamed Salah’s assertion that he would be remaining at Liverpool this summer sparked the same talk: a new beginning for the Senegal international.
While getting a premier replacement in, and not wanting to lose two world-class forwards on a free next year forms part of the context of Mane’s switch to Bayern Munich, the truth is his exit was an eventuality.
The reason is simple: Evolution – on the player’s behalf and Liverpool’s. Mane was the first transformer of the Jurgen Klopp era and the club’s successes over the past six years are owed in large part to his contributions on and off the ball.
Mane has earned a fresh challenge, surroundings, and responsibility while Liverpool continue their process of advancing the squad without being heavily clouded by sentiment.
Back in 2018, when the club prioritized a policy of retention and tied Roberto Firmino, Salah and Mane down with new long-term contracts, they visualized a number of scenarios.
The best case was maximizing the prime years of the trio as the squad developed together and lifted silverware, before a measured rebuild occurred.
There was awareness that football’s apex predators in the market – Real Madrid, Barcelona and newly Paris Saint-Germain – could be prepared to pay head-spinning sums to land one of the coveted trio.
Had the coronavirus pandemic not depressed the market, aligned with the financial crisis of La Liga’s giants and the emergence of Kylian Mbappe, the above had felt like the most likely outcome. A big sale would have neatly funded Liverpool’s next phase, much like Philippe Coutinho’s exit to Camp Nou had done.
The club were convinced Barca would attempt to recruit Firmino, and as such, inserted a clause into the Coutinho agreement dictating the Catalans would have to pay a € 100m premium above any valuation if they tried to lure another player from Anfield before 2020.
Another scene pondered was that their standout players would win enough silverware and pour so much of themselves into the club that they would naturally seek a fresh challenge.
Whatever happened, Liverpool were sure of one outcome: they would need to construct the “next great team” while still being competitive.
Former sporting director Michael Edwards had first circled this after the Champions League victory in 2019 and the recruitment team, despite backing themselves to pull it off, had always viewed the attack as the most taxing to reshape.
Firmino, Salah and Mane were the machine powering Liverpool’s blitzes, before adapting to become safe bets when a more rounded and steely possession-based approach materialized.
They worked well together, worked well for each other, and worked Klopp’s blueprint to the tee. The emotional bond for the trio within the squad, among staff and with the fanbase would also increase the difficulty of rejuvenation.
Yet in the space of 20 months, and with the expertise of Edwards’ successor Julian Ward, Liverpool have recruited Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez to drive the forward line.
This has been achieved with no upheaval, little fuss, and for 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 departs as a Liverpool legend, with the club’s blessing and deepest gratitude. They would have liked to have banked more, at least £ 5m beyond the £ 35.1m package Bayern tabled, but his desire to only move to the Allianz, his years of high performance, the solid relationship between the clubs, and the smooth Thiago negotiation led to a happy compromise.
It speaks volumes of Liverpool’s methodology and foresight that they are ceding one of the world’s best players – a Ballon d’Or candidate – without it feeling crushing to the club’s ambitions.
The Salah situation is the next conundrum to navigate, and while the threat of leaving on a free to a Premier League rival is regularly leaked from his end as a negotiating tactic, Liverpool remain calm over the present and future.
Their quiet discussions with Kylian Mbappe, despite that transfer never being financially viable (nor politically possible as Real discovered), reveal a club doing due diligence on every plausible scenario – as was the case in 2018.
Liverpool have been measured, which explains why the scale and efficiency of their refresh as well as the exit of such an exemplary player has felt like just another story rather than a saga.
Liverpool fixtures: Reds begin at Fulham
Liverpool begin the 2022/23 Premier League campaign with a lunchtime trip to newly-promoted Fulham on Saturday August 6.
It will be the fourth season in a row in which Liverpool have started a new campaign against a Premier League newcomer.
But after then facing Crystal Palace, Jurgen Klopp’s side will take on Man Utd at Old Trafford on August 20.
September will feature away trips to both 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 final game before the season stops temporarily 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 arch-rivals United on March 4, before tricky-looking clashes in consecutive weekends at City (April 1) and against Arsenal at Anfield (April 8), before finishing 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 11pm on September 1?
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