This is a stark shift in the football landscape. For decades, the working assumption was that Real Madrid and Barcelona represented the top of the sport’s hierarchy: they were the alpha, its ultimate destination, and giant predators. This is no longer true. Real Madrid and Barcelona, for now and for some time, no longer sit at the top of the food chain.
The football rumor industry hasn’t noticed that this doesn’t matter, in particular. It is, by its nature, a bit fanciful. This is part of the fun. If a rich whisper among click-hungry websites across Europe proves to be based on nothing but smoke and air, it doesn’t really do any harm*. There may be disappointment at the end – when you’re expecting Mohamed Salah but getting Luc de Jong – but in the meantime, readers are enjoying the journey of imagination. Advertisers are getting eyeballs. Sites are 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 is important, however, is that the players – or more accurately the customers – do not seem to have recognized this fact. Tectonic changes in the game mean that for a player like Salah, Marca’s and Ace’s courtship is no longer just a bargaining chip. Real Madrid is no longer a direct threat to Liverpool, not anymore.
This is an important change and not necessarily a positive change. Players in the Premier League’s top six teams – more or less – are effectively trapped. They wouldn’t sell to each other, not easily, as Spurs proved in rejecting Manchester City’s offer of Harry Kane last summer. The only club that can afford to redeem them is, probably, Paris Saint-Germain
Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United in particular, no longer prove to Real Madrid and Barcelona. In those interviews, Salah said twice that his future is in the hands of his club. It was seen, at the time, as a challenge for Liverpool: to offer him a contract that would meet his true value, or otherwise.