All it took was seven well-timed, well-placed emojis to open the door to fevered speculation around Mohamed Salah last week.
In a social media response to words from Jurgen Klopp about Salah’s Liverpool future, the Egyptian’s representative, Ramy Abbas, set tongues wagging as the rumor mill went into overdrive.
“Mo definitely expects this club to be ambitious,” Klopp said last week in response to a question at the pre-match press conference for the Brighton game. “We were in the last few years and we are.
“We cannot do much more, that’s how it is. But I don’t think it’s about that. It’s Mo’s decision pretty much. The club did what the club can do. That’s how it is.
“Nothing bad to say about it. It’s fine from my point of view. It’s exactly like it should be at this moment in time. Everything is set. Nothing happened further, no signing, no rejection or whatever.
“We just have to wait for that. It’s completely fine. No rush in that situation.”
The suggestion the ball was essentially in Salah’s court was the claim that seemed to embolden Abbas to send one of his now trademark cryptic responses.
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The Colombian representative might have been able to hide behind the coyness of it all, but Liverpool fans knew exactly what was meant by the subtle if not inconspicuous reaction to Klopp’s words.
It didn’t take long for the stories to happen. First, one on Friday evening that claimed that talks between Salah’s team and Liverpool’s operation had broken down and had made no progress since December.
And it didn’t really require the investigative mind of Inspector Clouseau to figure out the primary source of those stories on the eve of the Reds’ trip to the Amex Stadium last weekend.
Multiple sources at the both club and within the Salah camp were decidedly silent about those reports on Friday evening as the contract impasse went on, despite the repeated public declarations from the player himself that he would like to remain a Liverpool player for the long haul.
Inevitably, he gave way to more questions to Klopp about the long-term future of his main marksman, with the Reds boss reiterating his relaxed attitude at a situation that could still see Salah walk away as a free agent in the summer of 2023.
“This season everyone is completely committed,” Klopp said. “Some players don’t play often enough, some aren’t in the squad often enough, they could create a bad atmosphere but they don’t, they will not.
“They have a clear commitment to this team, this season and when it is done, we will talk about the rest, whatever, the future, all these kinds of things. And Mo is not the guy for that, not at all.”
But despite Klopp attempting to play down the situation – one that he as manager is not involved in directly – speculation from around Europe gathered pace, with one suggestion claiming that Salah was holding out for a move to Barcelona.
Spanish outlet SPORT have reported that Liverpool’s 28-goal leading scorer is open to the possibility of a move to Barca, despite repeatedly claiming his desire to remain on Merseyside this season.
“Barca is aware of the footballer’s economic demands and is clear that it would be a much more affordable operation than Erling Haaland’s, although uncontrolled because everything will depend on what Liverpool asks for as a transfer,” they reported.
“The English club is always very hard [when] negotiating and although Salah will only have one year left on his contract, it is not ruled out that they will drop with a price that would be around €100m.”
The lure of Barcelona is one that can never truly be discounted given their status as one of the planet’s superclubs, but is their current standing in the game somewhere fitting for a player of Salah’s rare genius right now?
And given the crippling, suffocating financial problems that have been well documented at the newly-branded ‘Spotify’ Camp Nou over the last couple of years, can the La Liga club even afford to put that kind of money on the Anfield negotiating table while meeting Salah’s salary demands?
The Catalan club face a mammoth rebuilding task and while they are armed with a whole host of talented youngsters who will become household names to European football fans in the coming years, Salah will surely recognize that it is Liverpool who are able to present him with the best possible opportunity of being firmly known as the world’s best footballer – the goal that drives the forward on every single day.
While the Reds were being handed presentable routes to the Champions League final this week, Barcelona could be found squeezing past Galatasaray in the Europa League and as he prepares to turn 30 in June, will Salah want to devote the final years of his career to the grand restoration of Barcelona?
As the hunt for a first-ever quadruple in English football goes on at Anfield, the answer to that question must surely be ‘no’. Or, maybe even more succinctly, Salah can respond with a few laughing emojis. Say seven, perhaps?