Before there were any handshakes over personal terms, performance-based bonuses or lengths of contract, the most important agreement between Liverpool and Mohamed Salah centred firmly around events on the pitch.
If Salah was to remain at Liverpool for the next three years as the highest-paid player at Anfield, there was one non-negotiable that had to be reached above all else.
For Salah himself, the belief that he could maintain the extraordinary levels of the last five years well into his 30s was and is unshakeable. In the modern game, top players are performing for longer and few are as dedicated to their craft as the recently-turned 30-year-old.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonnucci, for example, were the defensive bedrock behind Italy’s European Championship victory last year at the ages of 36 and 34, while Chelsea’s Thiago Silva, who turns 38 in September, is still starring in the Premier League for Chelsea.
Further up the pitch, Luka Modric (36) and Karim Benzema (34) dragged Real Madrid to another Champions League success last term, while Lionel Messi (35), Cristiano Ronaldo (37) and Robert Lewandowski (33) are all still operating at the top level. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, at the age of 40, has just become a Serie A champion with AC Milan.
And for a player whose commitment and desire to stay in peak condition is as strong as Salah’s, there are no concerns that the Reds’ superstar will dramatically tail off in the coming years from his end. Liverpool, to their credit, agreed.
It’s why there were few qualms about handing over the biggest contract of all time at Anfield to someone who has just entered his 30s, a deal that will end when he is about to turn 33.
The agreement between both the club and Salah that he will maintain this level of performance over the coming years was key to unlocking everything that has followed as the deal Reds fans had waited a long time for was finally signed and sealed.
As the ink on the contract dried up in the Greece sunshine on Friday, Salah said: “My message to [the fans] is, you know me and I give everything to the club. So, my message is the players in the team want to give our best next season to try to win all the trophies.”
“This is a special treat for our supporters to enjoy their weekend even more,” said Jurgen Klopp. “I’m sure there will be some celebrations for this news tonight.”
The Liverpool boss was not wrong. The champagne bottles were popped long into the night on the island of Mykonos as Salah’s agent, Ramy Abbas, toasted to the biggest deal he has ever brokered.
A delegation had been dispatched to where Salah is currently holidaying earlier this week, led by new sporting director, the impressive Julian Ward, as they closed in on a deal that was initially outlined in a face-to-face meeting at the turn of the year in Miami between Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon and Abbas, the Colombian solicitor who has looked after Salah’s interests throughout his time on Merseyside.
Those on the trip were sworn to secrecy as the delegation planned to finally secure the biggest contract ever at Liverpool before executing the type of carefully orchestrated social media unveiling that has become commonplace with such high-profile signings.
It is unclear how widespread the knowledge of the flight out to meet Salah was throughout the staff, but it is unlikely to have been openly communicated across all channels, such was the importance of the trip. Discretion, as always, was the keyword.
Talks accelerated once Ward and his team touched down and it is just another example of how surgically prepared Liverpool are when the time comes to act decisively. The deal for Darwin Nunez was wrapped relatively quickly early last month given the size of a transfer fee that could yet reach £85m, while the move for Luis Diaz in January was secured inside a week after it became clear Tottenham had already made advances.
This is how the modern Liverpool operate and such speed of purpose is why it can sometimes be difficult to second guess their internal moves. In the Klopp era, big decisions are carried out with minimal fuss, which is something that contrasts with some of their Premier League rivals.
It’s understood that the broad structure of the contract was thrashed out around the turn of the year Stateside after constructive talks helped re-open the lanes of communication following a breakdown in discussions.
A revised set of demands were subsequently sent via email earlier this year before talks quietened down as Liverpool chased an unprecedented quadruple in the final couple of months of the campaign.
Abbas was in Paris for the Champions League final last month, but given the importance of the game, the subsequent nightmare that unfolded for thousands of supporters at the Stade de France and frustrating night on the pitch, it is not thought that any significant talks were undertaken over the contract.
As the speculation intensified without a resolution seemingly in sight, it was privately being suggested that Salah could leave Liverpool in 2023 but remain in the Premier League. Given his profile, the list of potential suitors realistically capable of landing him would have been short.
With the Reds forward settled in the North West with his wife Magi and two kids, Makka and Kayan, the prospect of him remaining in England was being spoken about by some if a new deal could not be agreed at Anfield.
The idea of him pitching up at either Manchester City or Chelsea would have been a sickening one to stomach for fans who have worshipped the forward since he hit the ground at speed in his first campaign five years ago.
However, some sources dismissed that chatter as posturing from Salah’s camp as the contract impasse rolled on. It certainly would have been a decision taken with the heaviest of hearts for the player himself to move to a direct rival of Liverpool for nothing next summer.
Fortunately for Reds fans, that is an outcome they will not have to ponder. Salah never considered agitating for a move away this window. For him, the overriding desire has always been to stay with the club who have helped make him a global superstar since 2017 and if an agreement could not be found, he would walk away in a year’s time after one final flourish this coming term.
The heavily-incentivised deal is believed to be worth around £350,000 a week but Salah’s earnings, it’s understood, could exceed the £400,000 mark if his performance-based criteria is met. It’s a deal that is centred largely around goal involvements and contributions and the Egypt star’s faith in his own ability means he feels they are attainable goals.
The idea of acquiescing to the initial contract demands was too simplistic. Salah ‘s performances last term, particularly in the first half of his 31-goal campaign, saw scores of supporters line up to question why their star man was not being given exactly what was being asked for, but the size of the deal meant patience was always going to be needed from all connected.
The eventual agreement had to fit into the financial model that has underpinned Liverpool ‘s success in recent years, even if there was a strong appetite to reward the No.11 for his outstanding performances.
So the final terms are numbers that can make the former Roma star one of the most well remunerated performers in English football, should he keep to the level he has show as a matter of routine over the last half-a-decade on Merseyside. In short, it’s a contract that works for all parties, but perhaps none are set to benefit more than Liverpool’s fanbase.
Those at the club have privately praised Salah for his handling of the situation over the last 12 months. The questions have been consistently first at him in public, but his responses have always been respectful and truthful. His wish was always to extend his stay and his professionalism behind the scenes has allowed his representation to do what they are paid to do and hammer out the finer details for their client.
It means Salah will head into day one of pre-season training on Monday morning with an extra spring in his step. With a full summer schedule behind him and his future now resolved, there will be no surprise if he once more led the charge for the game’s greatest honours over the coming months.
After all, that is the first and most important agreement between Liverpool and Salah.