Mamadou Sakho’s Early Exit Requires Lengthy Repentance, Short Exile


Mamadou Sakho did a bad, bad thing.

Now what?

Sakho, 24, stormed out of Anfield upon learning of his exclusion from Liverpool’s squad for Saturday’s Premier League game against Everton. The Liverpool defender presumably went home and watched the 223rd Merseyside derby by himself, instead of cheering on his teammates from inside his home stadium.

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Everton held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw, as Phil Jagielka’s last-minute, wonder-strike cancelled out Steven Gerrard’s free kick. Liverpool outplayed its local rival, but the draw felt like a defeat. News of Sakho’s early exit, let’s call it a “tantrum,” added another layer of disappointment.

Six-and-a-half hours after the game ended, Sakho used Twitter to issue a public apology for his premature departure.

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We can only assume Sakho issued a more personal apology to manager Brendan Rodgers, his teammates and Liverpool’s staff.

Rodgers almost certainly will deal with the Sakho issue behind closed doors. Sakho can expect Rodgers to fine him and drop him for at least one game.

Sakho also must perform better in practice in order to earn his way back into Rodgers’ good graces. The fact that Rodgers picked Kolo Toure ahead of Sakho (as Liverpool’s third center back) for the Everton game suggests the manager already had a problem with the French defender’s recent form. Sakho’s petulance only puts him deeper in Rodgers’ doghouse.

We’re willing to bet Rodgers and Liverpool’s other players frowned on Sakho’s behavior, and many fans understandably are upset at him. But Liverpool should treat Sakho’s error as a learning experience, instead of allowing it to ruin his season or even his career at the club.

Sakho’s mistake was big but not fatal. There’s an inverse in that Rodgers’ potential response represents a test — not major but not insignificant either — of his managerial abilities.

Rodgers must discipline Sakho in a way that shows his force within the Liverpool camp without alienating the offending player or others, who might step out of line in the future. It’s a delicate balance that Rodgers must strike.

Liverpool still is alive in four competitions, and Sakho is an injury (to another player) or a good week of practice away from becoming second or third in Roders’ pecking order of central defenders. Sakho’s performances have been mixed in 2014-15, but he has room for improvement, and his potential ceiling remains high. A gentle nudge from Rodgers could have Sakho moving in the right direction.

Liverpool paid a princely £18 million ($29.2 million) to buy Sakho from PSG a little over 12 months ago. If Rodgers’ discipline is too harsh (in Sakho’s eyes), it could damage his relationship with the player. Sakho then could slip into a prolonged funk, and his second season at Anfield would deteriorate from bad to worse. Liverpool then would have an under-performing player with two years remaining on his contract, and the transfer vultures would start circling around Anfield by springtime.

The latter is the worst-case scenario. It certainly doesn’t have to be that way. Judging by how Rodgers handled Luis Suarez’s rebellion in summer 2013, we expect the Liverpool manager to play the right notes in the Sakho saga and quickly turn the page from this unfortunate incident.

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