This is a dramatic shift in the football landscape. For decades, the working assumption was that Real Madrid and Barcelona represent the pinnacle of the sporting hierarchy: they were its alphas, its ultimate destinations, its mega-predators. This is no longer the case. Real Madrid and Barcelona are no longer at the top of the food chain for now and for a while.
The soccer rumor industry didn’t notice that it didn’t really matter. It’s a bit weird by its very nature. This is part of the fun. If the whisper ricochet between click-hungry websites across Europe turns out to be based only on smoke and air, then it really won’t do any harm. * There may be a disappointment in the end – when you expect Mohamed Salah but get Luuk de Jong – in the meantime, readers enjoy the flight of fantasy. Advertisers grab attention. Websites get paid.
[*Other than to further undermine trust in the news ecosystem in general, and therefore permit the rise of the deliberately, cynically unreliable and the perniciously fake.]
What’s important, however, is that the players – or more accurately, the agents – don’t seem to have realized this fact yet. The changed tectonics of the game means that for a player like Salah, flirting with Mark and AS is no longer an important trump card. Real Madrid no longer poses an immediate threat to Liverpool.
This is an important change, and not necessarily a positive one. Players from the Premier League’s top six teams – more or less – are effectively trapped. They won’t sell each other, and it won’t be easy, as Tottenham proved by ditching advances from Manchester City in favor of Harry Kane last summer. The only club that can afford to pull them out is most likely PSG.
In particular, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are no longer training grounds for Real Madrid and Barcelona. In those interviews, Salah said twice that his future was in the hands of the club. At the time, it was perceived as a challenge to Liverpool: to offer him a contract that meets his true value, or something else.