The Liverpool defender has gone from being one of the first names on the Liverpool teamsheet to being stuck with with the U23s, as a result of circumstances for which the player himself cannot be held entirely accountable.
“It’s a win for the Liverpool country,” exclaimed Mamadou Sakho in an impassioned, if somewhat incoherent, post-match speech following Liverpool’s dramatic triumph over Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarter finals last season. Sakho had played his part too, scoring Liverpool’s third goal as the Reds came from 3-1 down to defeat Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund 4-3 in what will forever be remembered as one of those special European nights at Anfield. Sakho was in the form of his life, and was finally developing a solid partnership with Dejan Lovren at the heart of Liverpool’s defence.
Fast-forward six months and Sakho’s future at Liverpool seems almost non-existent. A suspension for taking fat burners which appeared on UEFA’s banned substances list ended the French defender’s 2015/16 season prematurely, and even though his name has since been cleared, he has not played a single competitive match at senior level for club or country since. Following several misdemeanours in pre-season at Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has frozen Sakho out of the first team, leaving him languishing in the U23 squad.
Without any doubt, the ban handed to Sakho – which UEFA has since agreed was unjust – would have had a crushing impact on the player himself. Here was a defender in his best form since joining Liverpool from PSG for £17 million in the summer of 2013. Not only was he hitting the right notes for his club, but Sakho had established himself as first choice for the French national team also. With Euro 2016 just around the corner, the ban could not have come at a worse time. For any player, missing the chance to represent your country at a major finals is a devastating blow, not least when the substances you were banned for taking should not have been on the list in the first place.
This has been a bitter pill to swallow (excuse the pun) for Liverpool fans especially, seeing a player who had established something of a cult hero status suddenly frozen out of the team. It could be argued that UEFA have a lot to answer for Sakho’s tribulations. While technically they did no wrong by banning the player – the substance he took was on the banned list at the time – the fact that the substance has since been removed and Sakho cleared is proof that UEFA could have handled this situation a lot better in the first place.
Of course, the player himself has to take a lot of responsibility for this sorry mess. It is questionable how a professional athlete – especially one of Mamadou Sakho’s physique – would feel the need to make use of fat burners in the first place. The drugs ban aside, Sakho’s falling out with Jurgen Klopp arose from several breaches of discipline during the club’s pre-season tour of the United States. The Frenchman was late for the original flight out of Liverpool, and was also late for a subsequent medical exam and a team meal, and this was enough for Klopp to send him home from the tour. While lady luck certainly hasn’t been kind to Sakho, at times he has been his own worst enemy.
The player has vowed to fight to win back his place, and turned down loan moves to West Brom and Stoke as the transfer window drew to a close in a bid to prove his commitment to knuckling down and working hard. However, patience is wearing thin on all sides. Sakho took to Snapchat recently (an unusual choice of medium, it must be said) to vent his frustration at the situation. Klopp is still unmoved, and with Lovren and new signing Joel Matip doing the business at the back for Liverpool currently, Sakho looks like an increasingly unwanted figure.
While perhaps Sakho’s Liverpool career may be drawing to a close, his reputation as an assured, if at times erratic, centre-half will land him in good stead for the future. Sakho is a prime example of how a lot can change in very little time in professional sport. Without any doubt, Mamadou Sakho still has a bright future ahead of him – one which is definitely salvageable from this current burning wreckage – and from the ashes may rise a more matured and level headed professional. But it appears that Mama’s stay in the “Liverpool country” may have come to an unfortunate and regrettable end.