Darwin Nunez is coming, Sadio Mane is leaving: it’s all part of Liverpool’s careful approach

Darwin Nunez is coming, Sadio Mane is leaving: it's all part of Liverpool's careful approach

Sadio Mane’s departure for Bayern Munich and Darwin Nunez’s arrival at Liverpool tell a story of team progress and how smart technique simplified a difficult assignment…

Prior to the Champions League final, Mohamed Salah’s announcement that he will stay at Liverpool this summer aroused the same speculation: a new beginning for the Senegal international.

There has been speculation in recent weeks that Sadio Mane’s Anfield career may have ended with the arrival of Darwin Nunez.

While getting a premier replacement in, and not wanting to lose two world-class forwards on a free next year forms part of the context of Mane’s switch to Bayern Munich, the truth is his exit was an eventuality.

Mane has earned a fresh challenge, surroundings, and responsibility while Liverpool continue their process of advancing the squad without being heavily clouded by sentiment.

The reason is simple: Evolution – on the player’s behalf and Liverpool’s. Mane was the first transformer of the Jurgen Klopp era and the club’s successes over the past six years are owed in large part to his contributions on and off the ball.

Back in 2018, when the club prioritised a policy of retention and tied Roberto Firmino, Salah and Mane down with new long-term contracts, they visualised a number of scenarios.

The best case was maximising the prime years of the trio as the squad developed together and lifted silverware, before a measured rebuild occurred.

There was awareness that football’s apex predators in the market – Real Madrid, Barcelona and newly Paris Saint-Germain – could be prepared to pay head-spinning sums to land one of the coveted trio. Had the coronavirus pandemic not depressed the market, aligned with the financial crisis of La Liga’s giants and the emergence of Kylian Mbappe, the above had felt like the most likely outcome. A big sale would have neatly funded Liverpool’s next phase, much like Philippe Coutinho’s exit to Camp Nou had done.

The club were convinced Barca would attempt to recruit Firmino, and as such, inserted a clause into the Coutinho agreement dictating the Catalans would have to pay a €100m premium above any valuation if they tried to lure another player from Anfield before 2020. Another scene pondered was that their standout players would win enough silverware and pour so much of themselves into the club that they would naturally seek a fresh challenge.

Whatever happened, Liverpool were sure of one outcome: they would need to construct the “next great team” while still being competitive. Former sporting director Michael Edwards had first circled this after the Champions League victory in 2019 and the recruitment team, despite backing themselves to pull it off, had always viewed the attack as the most taxing to reshape.

This has been achieved with no upheaval, little fuss, and for a combined initial cost of £142m. Jota and Diaz have already proved to be incredible value and Nunez is determined to continue that trend.

They worked well together, worked well for each other, and worked Klopp’s blueprint to the tee. The emotional bond for the trio within the squad, among staff and with the fanbase would also increase the difficulty of rejuvenation. Firmino, Salah and Mane were the machine powering Liverpool’s blitzes, before adapting to become safe bets when a more rounded and steely possession-based approach materialised.

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