With Liverpool facing a central defensive crisis, never more evident than it was in last night’s 3-1 defeat to Leicester City, has the time come to give Mamadou Sakho, currently on loan at Crystal Palace, a chance in the summer? Is Sakho good enough to do the job at Liverpool?
Liverpool’s defensive woes are painfully clear. With their first choice pairing of Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip constantly disrupted, and Lucas Leiva a thoroughly inadequate replacement, the team are leaking goals left right and centre, with Jamie Vardy well and truly having a party as he ran Lucas ragged.
So is there a gap in the market for Sakho’s return, should Liverpool struggle to fix things in the summer?
Sakho's place fundamentally undermined
The first thing to note is that if Sakho was still at Liverpool, he wouldn’t be playing. Jurgen Klopp made it perfectly clear exactly how low down the Anfield pecking order Sakho was, which was why he left for Palace in the first place.
And despite an excellent performance against Middlesbrough, as Palace won 1-0, Sakho’s standing will not have increased with Klopp one iota.
The truth is that this isn’t, and never has been, a question of talent. The fact that Sakho remains probably the most talented central defender at the club, although Matip is arguably a better defender, is completely irrelevant.
So the fact that Sakho is performing well at Palace is not surprising, in fact it would have been more surprising to see him struggle. However, that will not be enough, nor should it be enough, to undermine Klopp’s decision to send him out on loan.
Indeed, Klopp’s error was not letting Sakho go, but failing to replace him. Klopp made the right decision in ostracizing Sakho at the start of the season, and Sakho has only made the situation worse since then.
However, with a lack of central defensive options a clear issue, one that Klopp either chose not to resolve or could not resolve in January, letting Sakho go looks like a poor decision.
However, Sakho does not, and should not, have a future at Liverpool Football Club. The string of misdemeanours that led to Sakho leaving are highly publicised: he took drugs without the club’s consent, resulting in a massive period of time out whilst the case was investigated and possibly costing Liverpool a trophy in the process.
The defender then failed to take his rehabilitation from an injury seriously, showing a massive lack of responsibility that further angered Klopp; he refused to prove his fitness and dedication to the club by going out on loan in the summer; and the final nail in his coffin came when he publicly insulted the Liverpool boss on Snapchat just hours before a crucial game against Hull City.
Any of these cases by themselves would be enough to demonstrate Sakho’s dreadful attitude problems and serious lack of judgement. Together, they paint a picture of a man who simply wasn’t ready or willing to learn. And if there’s one thing that Klopp cannot stand, it’s a player who doesn’t listen to him or take what he has to say on board.
To let such a player back into the fold would be a big mistake on Klopp’s part, and one that he simply isn’t willing to make. Liverpool will have plenty of opportunity to adequately replace Sakho in the summer, and Klopp’s signing of Matip demonstrates that he is capable of picking out defensive talent, even assuming Liverpool don’t move in for Virgil Van Dijk.
A question of Klopp's integrity
Sakho’s talent and ability are what this decision harder, but similar to the one to axe Mario Balotelli, currently struggling as a result of his own poor attitude at Nice.
It was easy for Liverpool fans to back Klopp’s decision to hurriedly shuffle Balotelli out the door, given that the Italian striker had offered very little with his time at the club. But Sakho, who has shown similar discipline problems to Balotelli, is a harder case to swallow, simply because he was a well-liked and extremely valuable member of the squad.
But Liverpool fans also have backed Klopp. And Klopp is a man of integrity, a man who holds to certain ideas and we cannot have Klopp without having what he stands for.
Sakho is a player who ultimately disrespected the manager and the club and Klopp has to be respected for dealing with Sakho as such. It is all too easy to forgive his transgressions given the dire state of Liverpool’s defending in his absence, but that’s not, and never has been the Klopp way.
It’s harder to invest in Klopp’s project and his ideals when things aren’t going well, but if we don’t stand by the manager and his decisions when things are rough, then we don’t deserve to have him succeed with us.
Sakho is an extremely talented central defender, but his wretched attitude has ruined his future at the club. And rightfully so.