Paris Saint-Germain’s French international defender Mamadou Sakho is set to join Liverpool in the coming hours, according to BBC Sport. The move would end an 11-year association with the club that has raised him and turned him into one of the best potential defensive talents in Europe.
However, the move could be judged as an error on the part of the French champions, despite the reportedly handsome transfer fee the 23-year-old is set to earn for them. The player is a rare homegrown talent and one that has genuine claims to a first-team place over the ageing Brazilian Alex.
So why are PSG even contemplating letting go of the star who has been heralded in many parts as a future captain, per French Football Weekly, of the French national side?
Well, first and foremost, there is immense competition for places in defence at PSG right now. Not only does Laurent Blanc’s side boast the flawless Brazil national team captain Thiago Silva, but his compatriot, Alex, is also immovable alongside him and €35 million man Marquinhos is yet to feature this season.
But Sakho’s reaction to those challenges has been less than positive, which is a major concern for the French champions, who are trying to construct a team of the highest calibre. PSG’s former player and now coach, Claude Makelele, told Le Parisien (in French and translated by myself as a fluent speaker) as recently as March that is was “impossible” the club would consider selling “Kirikou” as he is known, but that he had been “childish.”
Since the appointment of Didier Deschamps as France national team coach, Sakho had been ever-present with Les Bleus heading into this year. But a decrease in playing time has put his international role in jeopardy with a potential World Cup appearance in Brazil looming for France if they can qualify.
Because of his limited chances under Carlo Ancelotti and now Blanc, the childhood PSG fan has been forced to leave his beloved club in order to secure a possible seat on the plane. He had previously admitted that this was the only way he would ever consider departing the French capital, according to ESPN FC.
There is no doubt that Sakho has the ability to play ahead of Alex, who was even beginning to show signs of age when at Chelsea. But the Brazilian’s consistency alongside compatriot Silva, not to mention their ability to communicate in Portuguese, has proved too much of an obstacle to overcome.
Despite being “third-choice” in his own words, per ESPN FC, and still playing 27 times in the league last season, the Frenchman did not feel he would get a fair chance with the arrival of potential Selecao sensation Marquinhos. He won’t be waiting around to find out, and although it might not harm PSG from the outside, inside it will hurt to see one of the children of the club leave.
That said, Sakho is now in the last year of his contract with the side from the capital, so there is a chance he could have left in the summer for free, even though it would have been too late for the World Cup in Brazil.
A sensational defender on his day, Sakho is strong and athletic, not to mention a great reader of the game. His height and aerial prowess make him a formidable opponent, and he is as strong on the ground as he is in the air, without losing any manoeuvrability.
But there have also been indications that the former club captain was too comfortable in his surroundings, too accustomed to being a fan favourite and exempt from the criticism that perhaps should have come his way in the past two seasons. The Frenchman is thought to be a poor trainer off the pitch with a number of bad habits, something that has stunted his growth since the arrival and lavish investment of Qatar Sports Investments.
During those two seasons, while Sakho has stood still in terms of development, young Raphael Varane has appeared on the international scene and Eric Abidal has also launched a comeback with Les Bleus. The Real Madrid youngster is now arguably France’s brightest defensive prospect and is better placed at this time to go to the World Cup despite his relative lack of experience.
Crucially, Varane is playing regular matches and Sakho is not. The same, too, can be said of Abidal, who currently captains Monaco and recently returned for Deschamps’ side in the friendly with Belgium. Fierce competition for France as well as PSG has pushed Sakho to seek the guaranteed first-team football he craves.
Whether he can ever make up the ground on Varane remains to be seen, although there is no doubt that even with regular matches for Liverpool, stepping out of Continental competition altogether is a big risk.
For PSG, though, it is also a gamble. If Sakho re-emerges as the defender everyone in Ligue 1 and France knows he is capable of being, then Liverpool have made an excellent signing despite the high price.
Letting go of a homegrown talent is also a big risk for the French champions at a time where so few are able to compete adequately for a starting role. But with Sakho pushing for a move without earning his place, it put the club in a difficult position with only a year remaining on his contract.
Sakho could turn into the signing of the season for Liverpool and win back his place in the France squad. But equally, he could still not make it onto the plane to Brazil and risks regretting his choice to leave PSG without the pressure of the World Cup making his mind up for him in the future.