If Julian Ward was hoping for a quiet first summer as Liverpool ’s sporting director, Sadio Mane put paid to that.
Ward steps into the role at Anfield in the unenviable position of replacing Michael Edwards. Under his predecessor, the Reds went from Premier League also-rans to the toast of Europe, building Jurgen Klopp a squad capable of competing with the very best.
Since 2018, Liverpool have reached three Champions League finals and had it not been for Manchester City, would have likely won significantly more than their solo league title. Edwards proved to be one of the shrewdest operators in world football when it came to not only identifying talents, but getting them in at the right time.
His list of successes are a who’s who of modern-day Liverpool greats including Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Alisson Becker and of course, Sadio Mane. When Kop bosses dished out £34million to acquire Mane from Southampton in 2016, there were questions asked.
But in six years on Merseyside the Senegal international has developed into one of the most consistent and versatile players in world football. His importance to Klopp’s side was perhaps never more evident than in the second half of last season, when he stepped to the fore with Mohamed Salah enduring a rare blip in form.
However, just weeks before Ward’s first summer transfer window the 30-year-old intimated to team-mates that he was ready for a new challenge. Mane currently has just 12 months remaining on his current contract and has thus far failed to come to an agreement.
Bayern Munich are the current frontrunners to sign the forward, having already seen a low-ball offer roundly rejected by Liverpool. In fact, the £25m offer – of which £4m were in bonuses – barely reached 50 per cent of what they would ultimately want.
Munich president Herbert Hainer issued a confident declaration that if they wanted a player, they would manage to sign him, but it was the other portion of his comments which would have pricked up Liverpool ears. “We’re in the fortunate position that we don’t have any economic hardships,” he said about players potentially leaving on a free.
“[Free transfers] are nothing out of the ordinary these days. We just got a player from Ajax Amsterdam [Noussair Mazraoui] on a free transfer.” And that’s the risk that Liverpool could ultimately play with Mane, either getting a fee for him this summer – or face the prospect of losing him for nothing next year.
Liverpool have been famed for their ability to get almost every deal right in recent years – standing superior as the likes of Manchester United lost Paul Pogba, Chelsea lost Antonio Rudiger and Arsenal lost Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang without recouping a fee.
But if Ward can repeat Edwards’ greatest feat it could make their decision significantly simpler. For all of the brilliant players that have come to the club in recent seasons, it has been their ability to constantly sell players well above their market value, which has been perhaps most impressive.
Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez are the obvious examples, but it’s away from the blockbuster transfers that Liverpool have been able to constantly boost the coffers. Whether it was £12.5m for Danny Ward, £19m for Dominic Solanke or £12m for Harry Wilson, the Reds have consistently been able to get top dollar for players that would have likely failed to have a lasting legacy at Anfield.
And Ward has a similar chance to make up for the £45m they could lose on Mane, with Nat Phillips, Neco Williams, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino all likely to leave this summer.
According to reports, the four could bring in upwards of £50m, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Minamino the only pair to have had any sort of impact in Liverpool’s most recent season. It’s certainly not the ideal situation, but deals elsewhere could negate the blow of Mane leaving on a free – and ultimately strengthen their ability to reject Bayern’s cut-price offers.