For years I’ve felt isolated. Part of a small minority, that truly believed Mamadou Sakho had the ability to go onto being one of the finest centre backs in the EPL, and a leader at the very heart of this Liverpool team. Whilst I wasn’t alone in this view, I often faced animosity and anger, from those who didn’t understand or appreciate the player the club had signed. Even still many doubt him. Why? Well simply in my view, because of his unorthodox stance and occasional over complications on the ball!
I now use Sakho as a benchmark, to judge someone’s true footballing knowledge. When I watch Mamadou I see a cultured, balanced, controlled player. Whilst others see an awkward, uncomfortable, unaccomplished player. How can this be? Are some supporters suffering from narcolepsy? Do they zone out when Sakho destroys an attacker, or plays an impeccable midfield splitting pass, or leads this team like no other? I honestly cannot fathom it.
There is very few things more satisfying in football than seeing Mamadou Sakho devastate an opponent, either by force in a tackle; or when he turns a player,
with a cute piece of skill you’d associate with a nimble attacker, not a 6″3 warrior. His size and physical strength makes him a worthy opponent of any top forward. But as shown over many years a defender can’t rely solely on strength, they need brains to match their brawn.
Sakho is an intelligent footballer, he holds a high line, reacts well to danger and controls those around him. He adapts well to a system and doesn’t get drawn into the wrong battles. He has just the right level of intensity to his game, so as not to be distracted from the job at hand, but remain strong, committed and uncompromising. He’s always up for a match, he has the mentality and hunger to succeed, no matter the odds, something severely lacking in other members of this Liverpool squad.
He is cool, calm and calculated, with eagle eyes vision to match his ability to pick a positive pass. It’s very rare that a centre back is one of your best passers of a ball, but Sakho has immense talent to not just play an accurate pass, but one with great purpose. The ability to dictate the tempo from deep is so vital to this side, and when in full flow it’s an immense weapon to the team. Mamadou can change the shape of a game; simply by passing forward with pace and precision. It speeds up the transition of the play and can quickly turn a defensive position into an attacking one.
I respect why some may doubt his form, because he’s known to struggle when returning from injury, but to doubt his ability is sheer madness. I’ve never understood why supporters ostracise certain players, all the while being happy to allow patience for others. Why is it one rule for one and a compete other, for the rest? If you’re quick to right off Mamadou, then how low do you rate Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel? Both are far inferior players, but all I see is excuses for them and damning judgements for Sakho?
When building a defence, you need the right balance. If you analyse the options at Jürgen Klopp’s disposal, three quarters of the defence picks itself. Alberto Moreno, Mamadou Sakho and Nathaniel Clyne. The most natural fit to complete the quartet is Joe Gomez, or if you had a time machine Kolo Toure. I was hugely disappointed when Joe was injured, not because he was the complete player yet, but one you could see Jürgen was desperate to work with.
Gomez has an excellent build, confidence on the ball, pace, plus a youthful confidence and exuberance that’s contagious. If he’d stayed fit, he certainly would have had opportunities, and my gut feeling is he’d have nailed down a starting berth by now. Joe and Mama would be a natural pairing for a high line, plus have the right mix of power and pace to complement each other’s game. My only doubt would be over experience, but I’d like to see this happen in the future.
It is however highly likely we’ll see significant changes in our centre halves over the next year or two. For me the only two that are safe, are Gomez and Sakho. Dejan Lovren’s erratic play (although slowly improving), Martin Skrtel’s inability to play a high line and equally erratic play, Kolo Toure’s age and Thiago Ilori’s fitness/development question marks, mean none are safe. We’ve signed Caulker, but to me that’s just a stop gap, a temporary measure until Matip arrives.
One of the areas of the pitch you need reliability, is in defence. For too long we’ve have inconsistencies at the back, which makes us very vulnerable, especially from set pieces. The spine of any team defines how much it can achieve and right now ours is brittle. If Jürgen is going to find fortune on the pitch, first and foremost he needs to to fix and forge a stronger spine. The good thing is, hes acutely aware of this.
Leadership is questioned in this team, but to me Sakho has grown in stature and voice this season. He’s starting to become the rock in this side, but he can’t do it alone. The balance is just not there, neither are the voices or stature behind, or in front of him. Let’s be truthful, this team can’t defend consistently, but let’s be honest, which teams can in the league? If we can learn to find a solution to our defensive frailties, then our outcome is already looking much brighter.
If we’re to ever forge a solid foundation, for me the man required to cement that is Mamadou Sakho. If he can maintain fitness, then he’ll maintain form. Crucially however it’s his partner, and other members of the spine that need a real injection of quality. As I said, those who deem Sakho a failure, I truly feel for you. Because you don’t get to watch and enjoy, the player that I see. The strong, confident and at times heroic man, whose here to stay.