Liverpool may have successfully evaded Al-Ittihad’s efforts to lure Mohamed Salah away from Anfield this summer, but it seems inevitable that Saudi Arabia will come calling again.

The 31-year-old is under contract at Anfield until 2025, having signed an extension that made him the best-paid player in the Reds’ history last summer. And while club bosses were adamant he would not be leaving before the latest transfer window closed, it will certainly be interesting to see if their resolve is as strong in 12 months’ time as the Egyptian heads into the final year of his deal.

Salah’s future might remain uncertain as a result, but supporters are growing increasingly resigned to the prospect of the forward moving on before the end of his contract in two years’ time.

Regardless of the timing of any future exit, such speculation has at least ensured, onlookers are starting to ponder Liverpool life after Salah and the identity of potential would-be successors.
Kylian Mbappe is the first fantasy name that will enter minds, given the club’s long-standing links with the World Cup winner. However, even if directly replacing Salah and his hefty wage on the Anfield payroll, even the most optimistic supporter would admittedly expect the Frenchman to be beyond the Reds’ financial reach.

Of course, that didn’t stop Liverpool fans from getting carried away by such a possibility in the past, at a time when their side were champions of England, Europe and the world. Yet Mbappe wasn’t the only big-money forward they were dreaming of at the time.

Were Jadon Sancho still at Borussia Dortmund, still returning goals and assists for fun in the Bundesliga and Champions League, the prospect of a Salah exit would inevitably result in the England international being linked with the Reds as a potential big-money replacement.

Instead, he joined Manchester United in a £73m deal in the summer of 2021. But it’s not just because he plays for Liverpool’s bitter-rivals that his name is absent from such speculative discussion, with his fortunes floundering ever since returning to England.

While he would return an impressive 50 goals and 64 assists from 137 games in four seasons with Dortmund, he has only registered 12 goals and six assists from 82 games during an underwhelming spell at Old Trafford.

His time at Dortmund saw him produce 33, 40 and 36 goal contributions in back-to-back seasons, including an eye-catching 20-goal campaign in 2019/20, to earn the interest of United in the first place. In contrast, he has never contributed to more than 10 goals in a year for the Red Devils, and missed three months of the season last term as he was granted time off to address physical and mental issues.

Meanwhile, he hasn’t been called up by England since October 2021, missing out on a place at last year’s World Cup in the process, and has played just once for the Three Lions since missing a penalty in their shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

And now, two years after his big-money move to Old Trafford, he could have played his final game for United after a public falling out with manager Erik ten Hag.

Left out of the Red Devils’ matchday squad to face Arsenal in their final game before the September international break, the Dutchman would declare the player’s training levels hadn’t been up to scratch when explaining Sancho’s absence.

“Jadon, on his performances in training we did not select him,” Ten Hag said after the 3-1 defeat at the Emirates. “You have to reach a level every day at Manchester United and we can make choices in the front line. So for this game he was not selected.”

Sancho took issue with his manager’s claim and took to social media to dispute it just over an hour later with a 110-word passive-aggressive statement that he has now deleted from his X/Twitter page.

“Please don’t believe everything you read!” he wrote. “I will not allow people saying things that is (sic) completely untrue, I have conducted myself in training very well this week.

“I believe there are other reasons for this matter that I won’t go into, l’ve been a scapegoat for a long time which isn’t fair! “All I want to do is play football with a smile on my face and contribute to my team.

“I respect all decisions that are made by the coaching staff, I play with fantastic players and (am) grateful to do so which I know every week is a challenge. I will continue to fight for this badge no matter what!”

It remains to be seen if he will be given the opportunity to do so on the pitch, having essentially accused his manager of lying on social media. The Telegraph have since reported that he had showdown talks with Ten Hag earlier this week, while ESPN claim that Sancho’s Manchester United team-mates ‘ have had enough of him’ and run out of sympathy for the winger.

Meanwhile, the MEN reported in April that Ten Hag was becoming impatient with the under-performing Sancho.

Former United goalkeeper Ben Foster has not been alone in pointing out that the England international would have been straight out of the exit door if he had spoken out when Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge. For the record, Ten Hag was equally ruthless with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo last season, though the Portuguese was pushing to leave Old Trafford in contrast to Sancho’s vow to “continue to fight for this badge.”

The England international was still linked with a move to Saudi Arabia following his public outburst, with their transfer window open until September 7. However, despite interest from Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq, and reports suggesting preliminary talks had been held, a move was never close to completion.

As a result, Sancho’s future remains very much uncertain, with it not yet emerging whether Ten Hag plans keep the winger as part of his first-team plans or freeze him out ahead of a future transfer.

However, the Telegraph credit United sources as being “doubtful that there is a way back for Sancho under Ten Hag, even if an apology is forthcoming.” Also suggesting that the Red Devils were prepared to listen to offers for the player this summer, it has been quite the fall from grace for a player that was one of European football’s most coveted stars only two years ago.

You wonder if Sancho may secretly regret opting for United as his next destination when leaving Dortmund. Could his fortunes have turned out any differently had he made a move to Liverpool and linked up with one of his biggest admirers in Jurgen Klopp instead?

The German had admitted in the past that the Reds did consider making a move for Sancho in the summer of 2017 when he joined Dortmund from Man City.

“Buying English players is a smart idea because we would never have a chance to get Sancho,” he revealed in 2019. “We are not blind – we saw him, we liked him and then we think: ‘Can we get him?’ No. Because English clubs don’t sell to other English clubs.

“I don’t know exactly what the reason is for that but they don’t do it. Now they can go to Germany, which is a wonderful league.”

Two years later in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and Klopp wrongly predicted that the financial ramifications of the global health crisis on football would prevent the likes of Sancho from moving on. While, despite frequent links with Liverpool, he was beyond the Reds’ financial grasp at this time, United were able to afford his £73m deal, having baulked at an £100m asking-price 12 months earlier.

“I hear a lot about big-money moves, I don’t know if Kylian Mbappe is going or not, whether Haaland or Sancho will, these kinds of players,” Klopp said in May 2021. “I don’t see that happening this summer because the football world is still not in the same place it was before.”

That didn’t stop Klopp from admiring Sancho though, having already once admitted to beIN Sports that he “loved watching” both the England man and Mbappe.

“The red shirt (of Liverpool) would suit very well,” he said in an interview with German newspaper Bild in June 2020. “I don’t think such a transfer will be possible this season.

“He (Sancho) is a very interesting player. (But) if he’s coming to Liverpool I would be the most surprised of all of us.”

Klopp would also defend Sancho in October 2021 following a difficult start to his United career.

“Jadon Sancho is a world-class talent. Definitely,” Klopp said. “He has all the things you need to become really one of the best players in the world in the future. That’s how it is, but he’s still very young. At Dortmund they were obviously full of praise about him. Rightly so.

“I saw a lot of games where he played outstandingly well. It’s a normal situation where you are, especially. I’m not, but you are, you lose patience a little bit quickly. Don’t forget the options United have in his position…

“Jadon for sure can play in other positions.. but there’s not space anymore…That’s a problem you want to have as a manager, actually, to be honest. Everything will be fine for Jadon, but hopefully not on Sunday.”

But everything has not been fine for Sancho. And his Old Trafford future now lies in the hands of Ten Hag. Although under contract until 2026, if the Red Devils decide to move him on, he’ll certainly cost a lot less than £73m.

Of course, sometimes transfers just don’t work out and it doesn’t click for players at certain clubs. If Sancho does move on, there is nothing stopping him from living up to that world-class label from Klopp elsewhere.

Admittedly, while he might have previously been tipped as a potential successor to Salah, his United allegiances ensure such a prospect is now very much a non-starter. A player hasn’t moved directly between the two rivals since 1964, after all.

Yet, it wouldn’t actually be the worst idea in the world. Sancho is still only 23, with his best years ahead of him, and qualifies as a homegrown player. Meanwhile, while not left-footed, he played most of his football for Dortmund on the right-wing as he returned 24 goals and 36 assists from 71 appearances. Sadio Mane initially thrived in such a role himself at Anfield, prior to switching flanks following Salah’s own arrival.

Potentially available for a cut-price fee, you’d fancy Klopp, one of the best managers around, to help Sancho recover his best form too.

Yet any Liverpool clamour for Sancho evaporated the moment he put pen to paper on his Manchester United contract. That ship has long since sailed.

And while he was once touted as a possible replacement for Salah, his decline is demonstrated best by the fact that, as United weigh up whether to freeze out and offload Sancho, he is perhaps now more likely to one day face off against the Egyptian in Saudi Arabia instead.

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