Mohamed Salah's contract saga hides Liverpool's bigger problem involving Sadio Mane
Yet those talks - or lack of them, as progress continues to be painfully slow over a new deal - are at least doing Liverpool’s owners and sporting director Michael Edwards a favour, in diverting attention away from the time bomb that is ticking under Jurgen Klopp ’s squad.
Salah of course, is the high profile deal, an undoubted world class superstar, perhaps at the moment the best in the world, and now barely 12 months away from being able to talk to other clubs.
If there is no agreement over a new contract, and he becomes available on a free transfer in the summer of 2023 - or perhaps available for transfer next summer - then there will be no shortage of clubs interested.
And those clubs could make depressing reading for Liverpool fans. PSG, Real Madrid for certain, and perhaps Barcelona by then. But what about Manchester City, who wanted an equally prolific goalscorer in Harry Kane last summer?
Salah ticks even more boxes for Pep Guardiola, because he can operate wide and fill the space as a false nine, to fit perfectly into City’s system. He scores as many as Kane, but is less Aguero, more Messi. It is not so fanciful as it first seems.
It doesn’t bear thinking about on the red half of Merseyside, so it is no wonder the subject of Salah’s contract has become all consuming. Losing him at the height of his powers in such a manner to such opponents would be catastrophic.
Yet that focus hides a wider problem for Liverpool’s money men, as they juggle an avalanche of new contracts which require resolution in the coming months. And they are contracts which form the backbone of Klopp’s team.
Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have just 19 months left on their contracts, the same as Salah. There is no doubt negotiations have been equally difficult, equally tense, equally tortuous as those with Salah and his agent Ramy Abbas...just without the public airing.
No doubt because all three are around the same age, are at the same stage of their careers, and are at essentially the same levels; which is to say the three form one of the most revered front lines in world football.
Mane’s agent will no doubt argue his client is as important as Salah. Many believe his work rate is essential in allowing the Egyptian to have more freedom to attack. The same can obviously be said of Firmino...as Klopp himself often asserts in naming the Brazilian as the heartbeat of his team.
The point is, the same factors which have held back a Salah deal apply to the other two. All three will be 30 years old before next season kicks off, and Liverpool are notoriously reluctant to offer long term contracts to players in their 30s.
It is a sensible policy, especially in Covid times, but currently there is no Plan B for Klopp. Should he lose his three forwards, either this summer or a year later, his current options are Diogo Jota, Divock Origi and Taki Minamino. It is not a forward line which wins trophies.
The fundamental question Liverpool’s sporting department must answer is, will all three still be at the same level in four years time? Because all three will undoubtedly want a minimum of that to extend. Klopp has often said he believes they will, which is a fairly obvious clue that he is, shall we say, extremely keen, on the club agreeing new deals.
But all three will also want a reflection of their quality in any salary increase. Salah is arguably as effective and important to the Reds as Kevin de Bruyne is to City. The Belgian is on almost £400,000 a week. Multiply that (or at least a large chunk of that) by three and then four years, and you have some serious salary commitments to players who will be 34 when their contracts are up.
It is a huge dilemma, and not one solved easily. But the headache doesn’t end there for Liverpool. They also have both Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out of contract in the summer of 2023 too.
Add in the questions of James Milner and Divock Origi out of contract next summer, and there are some serious negotiations to do, between now and next season. Milner seems happy to take it year by year, so that should be relatively straightforward. The rest, not so much.
Oxlade-Chamberlain offers a dimension Klopp’s midfield doesn’t otherwise have, but injuries have denied him the consistency of 2017-18 when he was flying. Keita has constantly been stopped in his Liverpool tracks by niggling and frustrating injuries. Both are the sort of contract conundrums money people hate.
Origi will probably be allowed to leave, but can the Anfield club allow so many of the others to also depart? It is a time bomb that needs to be defused, but will take the steady hand and even steelier nerves of a bomb disposal expert to resolve without collateral damage.