Sam McGuire: Why injury-prone Ibrahima Konate could be SACRIFICED this summer

Richard Hughes’s to-do list continues to grow. 

Liverpool’s newest sporting director, who doesn’t officially start his new role until June, has a new head coach to welcome, transfers to handle, sales to make and contracts situations to resolve all while ensuring key staff who depart this summer are replaced in time for the new campaign.

It is the definition of a baptism of fire for the former Portsmouth midfielder on Merseyside.

The Reds currently find themselves in an unenviable position when it comes to contracts. Leading goalscorer Mohamed Salah, vice-captain Trent Alexander-Arnold and skipper Virgil van Dijk are all heading into the final 12 months of their deals. Sorting out their futures will be a priority for Hughes. Some ruthless decisions might have to be made, too.

As a result of the focus being solely on this trio, others have gone a little under the radar. One such player who falls into this category is Ibrahima Konate.

The Frenchman is heading into the final two years of his deal. There was a report in France back in December that suggested the former RB Leipzig man was set for contract talks but we’re now in May and there hasn’t been anything more concrete.

Liverpool's poor renewal record

There’s been more talk regarding Curtis Jones and he’s got three years on his current contract. So what is going on with Konate and why hasn’t it been sorted?

And, perhaps more importantly, why are Liverpool now regularly finding themselves in these types of situations? Because this isn’t exclusive to this summer, is it? Gini Wijnaldum left on a free. Roberto Firmino left on a free. Sadio Mane had just one year left on his deal when he moved to Bayern Munich.

Now, three of the club’s most important players are into the final 12 months of their deals.

Liverpool FC Contracts Trent Alexander-Arnold Virgil van Dijk Mohamed Salah

Liverpool FC face key contract decisions over Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Mo Salah this summer.

The Reds haven’t done a great job protecting their assets over the past couple of years and they really haven’t been able to sell well as a result of this.

To some extent, you can kind of understand why this has been the case over the past year or so but it’d be naive to think this is an issue exclusive to recent years.

Uncertainty over Slot's plans

Back to Konate, though. The sporting director situation would’ve slowed down talks between the club and the centre-back. As would the uncertainty surrounding who would eventually succeed Jurgen Klopp.

Agents aren’t going to want to deal with interim sporting directors when negotiating an improved deal, while players aren’t going to want to commit their best years to a club when they have no idea who their boss will be.

Konate is 25 this month, any new deal now would likely see him into his late 20s and this is a key part of his career.

He’s a France international and he’s going to want to be competing for trophies, so he’s going to want to know what the plan is and what Arne Slot’s project at Anfield is going to look like.

By the same token, though, Liverpool are going to want to plan for the Slot project to arm him with the playing staff they feel he needs to be competitive.

Konate's injury problems limit Liverpool

What if there are concerns over Konate? If we’re being honest, there should be, shouldn’t there?

His injury record is the elephant in the room. And this means he limits Liverpool.

Transfermarkt says he’s missed 23 games for the Reds as a result of injury since the move from RB Leipzig in 2021. That feels a little low though. However, a lot of the time whenever he’s missed a game it has been as a result of his game time being managed. In truth, this isn’t really something that should be happening at the age of 24.

That, in itself, is an issue.

Bournemouth v Liverpool Premier League 21/01/2024. Ibrahima Konate 5 of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Bournemouth and Liverpool at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, England on 21 January 2024. Bournemouth Vitality Stadium Dorset England Editorial use only DataCo restrictions apply See www.football-dataco.com , Copyright: xGrahamxHuntx PSI-18861-0191

He’s made 17 starts in the English top flight this term and his 1,571 minutes in the Premier League this term is the highest total of his Liverpool career.

But how can you build around someone like that? Is it even possible? For context, Virgil van Dijk is at 2,998 minutes in the Premier League this season and he’s made 34 starts.

That is a starting centre-back. That is a defender you build your team around.

The case for selling Konate

As mad as it sounds, is it crazy to think there’s a world in which Konate could be sacrificed this summer?

They aren’t going to want to let him enter the final 12 months of his deal, are they? So the choice is sell now or give him a new deal. Any new contract though will see his £80,000-per-week wage rise.

Can you justify a bumper deal with these injury issues? Do his performances even warrant a pay rise? Can you give a starting salary to a part-time player?

These are all questions that Hughes is going to have to answer, and quickly. The new sporting director is going to be judged just as much on sales as he is on the players he brings in.

How he handles this could well be a precursor for what is to come with him in charge of recruitment.

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