Liverpool can help Arne Slot by selling petulant Mohamed Salah this summer | Jacob Steinberg

Liverpool can help Arne Slot by selling petulant Mohamed Salah this summer | Jacob Steinberg

When it comes to picking one image to symbolise the end of an era at Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp’s quarrel with Mohamed Salah on the London Stadium touchline will take some beating. This is what happens when power slips away. This, sadly, is the way that it ends.

We will have to speculate about the specific reason behind the row that grabbed the attention after Liverpool’s deflating 2-2 draw with West Ham on Saturday. West Ham’s equaliser had arrived before Klopp, who had been waiting to make a triple substitution, was able to introduce Salah, Darwin Núñez and Joe Gomez. The manager seemed miffed and appeared to admonish Salah, whose angry response made it very clear that he had zero interest in listening to any criticism.

It was quite the scene. Salah clearly did not regard Klopp as a figure of authority. Instead of holding back, the Egyptian had to be held back by two of his teammates. Later, as he made his way out of the stadium and walked past reporters, he declined interview requests and said there would be “fire” if he stopped to speak.

Say no more, Mo. We get it. Klopp had tried to play the incident down during his post-match press conference, but Salah lit the fuse. The Egyptian winger was hardly acting as the model of diplomacy, even if his remark was delivered in a jokey way. Far more preferable would have been Salah providing the same kind of spark on the pitch during a spell that has seen Liverpool’s season go up in smoke.

It was not supposed to go this way when Klopp announced that he was leaving. Liverpool won the Carabao Cup final and targeted a quadruple. But something shifted when they went out of the FA Cup to Manchester United last month. The physical and mental challenge was too much. Defensive flaws were exposed during the Europa League quarter-final defeat to Atalanta, the attack malfunctioned in several winnable games and the title challenged faltered.

Salah, who has been short of sharpness since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, could not provide the inspiration. He has 24 goals in all competitions this season – hardly a poor return – but there is a sense of a player whose powers are waning. Salah is 32. His contract expires in a year and there are suggestions that he will move to Saudi Arabia in the summer. Maybe Klopp’s impending departure allowed Salah to erupt. Or maybe Salah’s impending departure allowed Salah to erupt.

Liverpool’s Mo SalahView image in fullscreen

Either way it would be a shame if the relationship between two of the greatest figures in Liverpool’s history is broken. Salah has been the standout player of Klopp’s reign, the genius in attack, the driving force behind so many wins. But the mind goes back to Sir Alex Ferguson announcing that the 2001-02 season would be his final year at United. Uncertainty set in, motivation dipped and United lost the title to Arsenal. Ferguson had given his players an excuse to let their standards dip.

Thankfully for United, the Scot ended up staying and oversaw a new era of domination. Klopp, though, is not going to change course. He looks emotionally drained. He sounds as if he cannot wait for the season to end. It has to have an impact on the team. The mentality monsters have disappeared.

There have, of course, been shows of petulance from Salah in the past. None, though, as big as the one on Saturday. None, surely, that would have occurred if Klopp was staying. Nobody who worries about a backlash from their boss behaves like that.

But this is an unfocused team, overseen by a weary, distracted, unhappy manager. If they were on their game, Liverpool would have smashed West Ham after going 2-1 up. Instead, their title challenge fizzled out in a blaze of missed chances and shoddy defending.

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Salah, of course, is part of the malaise. His goals will not be easy to replace but perhaps it would help Arne Slot, who will soon be confirmed as Klopp’s replacement, if he does not have to worry about managing a player whose ego appears to have spiralled out of control next season.

Not that the rebuild will be easy. Away from Salah, questions also hang over the futures of Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold. But if there is another lesson that Liverpool can take from Ferguson, it is about how to deal with a disrespectful player. One or two individuals aside Ferguson always knew when someone’s race was run. He never let anyone become bigger than the club. Klopp, though, is not in a position to tame Salah.

The fear is gone. It evaporated during this most dispiriting of run-ins. Klopp does not have the stomach for it any more and his best player has smelled weakness. Looking to the future, Liverpool have to help Slot by reintroducing discipline. Klopp goes, but so does Salah.