We as supporters get to see players on the pitch primarily. There isn’t as much opportunity to get a taste for what they’re like in training and off the field. That’s why most can only base their opinion on what they see of a player on matchday. Which makes it understandable that many see a defender of Sakho’s ability sitting on the sidelines and question why when Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan are struggling to find consistency. One week supporters saw Lovren and Klavan defend solidly at Old Trafford in a 1-1 draw before a defensive meltdown at Anfield against Swansea City saw a 3-2 loss.
But people should also remember that Sakho is not the most solid of defenders either and was always capable of a defensive horror show – see Watford away and Spurs at home last season for examples of this. The Frenchman was generally more consistent than Lovren and also made less errors, but he was never the rock solid centre-back some have claimed during his absence this season. He always had a mistake up his sleeve as it seemed ninety minutes of focused concentration was too often beyond his ability. He is a frustrating defender who is capable of brilliance, horror shows and everything between.
Many have pointed the finger at Klopp as the reason for Sakho’s absence for the side when he looks the best option as a partner for the generally impressive Joel Matip at the heart of the defence. Accusations of the German having too big an ego to swallow have been made by some as they try to reason with Sakho not being in the side. But it’s not down to Klopp refusing to bite the bullet and reinstate Sakho against the wishes of his pride.
Sakho has had behavioural and attitude problems all through his career. It was much of the reason he was allowed to join Liverpool from boyhood club Paris Saint Germain in the first place. Accusations of being undisciplined off the pitch were made against him, ranging from dietary problems to having an unsuitable social life in the French capital. Club director Leonardo described Sakho as “a bit overweight” back in 2012, which supports the view that he has had problems with his physique throughout his career. Other members of the staff at the Ligue 1 club were reported to be unimpressed with his demeanour and had issues getting along with Sakho.
PSG persisted with him in the hope that he would mature and allow his potential to develop. He was even handed the captaincy as a teenager in the hope that he would focus more taking on the role. But Sakho continued to let down his club and was made available for transfer when he had a year left on his contract so that they did not lose out on a fee altogether. He was a backup option when Liverpool signed him in the Summer of 2013, with former Chelsea defender Alex preferred as a partner for Tiago Silva, who arrived from AC Milan during the Summer of 2012. The Brazilian duo were selected ahead of Sakho by both Laurent Blanc and Carlo Ancelotti during their spells in charge, with Sakho not considered reliable or consistent enough by the two managers.
Some supporters of the French club were outraged that Sakho had been allowed to leave and he has a similarly dedicated following at Liverpool. There are plenty of fans at Anfield who believe that the twenty-six year old ‘gets’ the club and his selfless charity work off the field has also seen his stock rise with the supporters. But these aspects of the man are only one side of the coin.
Sakho was found to have taken a fat burning substance when he was randomly selected for a drugs test after the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the Europa League last season. Coincidentally, Sakho was immense in that match and one of the main reasons that the Reds progressed in the first continental meeting with United. But this failed test meant that Sakho ultimately missed the rest of the season – including the 3-1 loss in the final of that competition against Spanish club Sevilla. It outraged the club and Sakho was told as much.
But it seemed to fall on deaf ears as the defender turned up late for team meetings, almost missed a flight and was seen to be messing around during team building exercises. There was even footage of Sakho interrupting Klopp during an interview on the preseason tour of the US. This was to prove to be the final straw and he was subsequently sent home early from the tour and told to continue his rehabilitation from injury on Merseyside.
Klopp’s patience had been pushed to the limit by the France international. The German coach told Sakho to find himself an agreeable loan move for the season so that he could prove himself as a professional away from Anfield, where there would be no risks to the squad harmony and objectives Klopp had set out for the campaign. Offers came in from Sunderland, Stoke City, West Brom and a few continental clubs too. Sakho rejected them all. He resolved to stay at Anfield and win his place back in the side.
That was another strike against his name and Klopp banished him from the first-team squad and told him to train with the under-23 side, which is where Sakho spent the season until his January deadline day move to Selhurst Park to join Sam Allardyce’s men in their battle against relegation to the Championship. He had defied Klopp’s instructions and further distanced himself from the manager’s plans.
Sakho will be hoping that some impressive performances for Palace will turn Klopp’s head and change his mind. But it seems that the boat has sailed on the Frenchman’s Anfield career and he remains a Liverpool player by the skin of his teeth thanks to his asking price not being met. Palace made a best offer of £12m for Sakho, but it was well short of the £20m pricetag placed on his shoulders. Klopp will be keen to see Sakho do well in order to have that fee met in the Summer, despite his cryptic assertion this week that Sakho might well change his mind. It won’t happen.
History appears to have repeated itself for Sakho and he will do well to learn from it or he will continue to repeat the cycle that has prevented him from realising his potential.