The buzz generated from reports claiming Mohamed Salah is open to joining a Premier League club is to be expected. One of the outstanding players across the last five years, the Egyptian has not only become a great goalscorer for Liverpool, but he’s also provided moments of pure genius.
Even at 29, where the concern over spending vast amounts might appear a risk, his relentlessness and self-drive could see him excel at an elite level for years to come.
What his decision to stall on contract talks with Liverpool indicates more broadly is a growing trend at the high-end of the market, one that might prompt clubs to change their strategy.
Chelsea knows first-hand the dangers of allowing players to enter the final year of their deals. Losing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen this year for free, and with Cesar Azpilicueta’s future still in limbo, the sheer amount of high-level free agents in 2022 feels more like a mere coincidence.
Paulo Dybala, Ousmane Dembele, and Paul Pogba all likely have several clubs interested in their signature. The chance to negotiate a wage without the hassle of a transfer fee can be a win-win situation for both parties. This new trend could eventually see the ludicrous inflation in transfer fees come down due to the idea of a long-term investment no longer being so concrete.
Players know their increasing value, and the quickly changing nature of football means that being stuck on a five or six-year deal could mean a player’s chance to jump at a dream move could be halted by an employer unwilling to sell.
Wilfried Zaha and Harry Kane both feel like pertinent examples across recent years in England, two players who continued to sign lengthy contract deals that allowed their clubs to increase the asking price, fending off any incoming interest.
Even with the advancement of sports science and players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi all playing into their thirties still within Europe’s top five leagues, football careers are still finite, and the unpredictable elements of form and injury make a player’s prime years invaluable.
Salah, like his attacking partner, Sadio Mane, has a lot of negotiating power. In the case of Mane, Liverpool knows that with the forward’s desire to move on, this window offers the last chance to gain a sizeable fee for his talent. The same applies to Salah, even though it looks highly unlikely he will move this window.
Robert Lewandowski is another name that feels relevant here, openly stating a desire to leave Bayern with his contract running down, it leaves clubs with a decision to make. The same can be said for Declan Rice eventually with West Ham.
As Chelsea enters a new era of ownership under the consortium led by Todd Boehly, the transfer strategy may need to be refined.
When the Blues sign a player, in most cases, a five-year deal is initially agreed upon. In the case of Rudiger, he never went past those five years, and similar could apply to future signings or players currently in Chelsea’s first-team squad considering their futures.
The days of players signing away years of their career to one club are probably over. The days of the one-club man are more an exception than the rule. Boehly’s Chelsea will have to adapt and likely be much more intelligent in their squad building to accommodate these disruptions.