Not too many will remember the Liverpool career of Mamadou Sakho as fondly as we do.
Signed for £17.1m back in the summer of 2013, the Reds thought they were getting a superstar. Sakho was a full France international. He was the youngest player to ever captain a club in Ligue 1.
At 23-years-old, he had the potential to be a world-class centre-back. Fans were excited, as they deserved to be. His first season started slowly, as he contended with Kolo Toure and Daniel Agger to partner Martin Skrtel in defence.
Yet by the time it got to the business end of the campaign, Sakho was a regular and Liverpool were well in the title mix. It wasn’t to be in terms of winning the league, but the future looked bright for the player and the club.
Unfortunately, his 2014/15 season was ruined by three separate injuries. Brendan Rodgers’ side were feeling the loss of Luis Suarez more than they could have imagined. Yet Sakho’s loss does not get spoken about half enough.
In his absence, Skrtel and Dejan Lovren formed a shaky pair. Rodgers trialled a back three, which helped to an extent, but it was a poor season for all.
Klopp seemed to be a big fan
The Northern Irishman was sacked the following season and replaced by Jurgen Klopp. The German boss seemed to be a big fan of Sakho and made him a regular starter once more.
Again, injuries hit. But, once again, by the time it got to trophy season, the then-No 17 was a key man. He scored a famous goal against Borussia Dortmund on the road to reaching the Europa League final.
Sakho was proving to be the quality player that everyone assumed he was. He may have looked like Bambi on ice, but it always worked out for him.
He was quick, brave and good on the ball – basically, he was a perfectly capable defender at the very top level. Yet just when his Liverpool career as a top player was really taking off, it all fell apart.
In April 2016, it was announced that Sakho was under investigation by UEFA for violating an anti-doping rule.
Liverpool agreed to not play him while the investigation was ongoing, which meant that Sakho missed the Europa League Final.
He was eventually banned, but in very controversial circumstances. The ban was overturned and the case was dismissed a few months later, but the damage was already done.
There still appeared to be hope…
However, after the ban was overturned, it still appeared that Sakho would get his chance at Anfield.
Joel Matip was brought in on a free transfer in 2016 and it looked like he would be forming a partnership with the Frenchman.
Sakho was even given the No 3 shirt, which indicated that Klopp saw him as a guaranteed starter in his side. Yet it wasn’t to be. The drug ban was one thing, but it was his behaviour on the club’s pre-season tour of the US that really ended his career on Merseyside.
He was sent home for repeated lateness and was demoted to the u23 side. That was where he remained until January, when he went out on loan to Crystal Palace.
Palace made that deal permanent for £26m in summer 2017, with Liverpool actually making a profit. Injuries meant that Sakho never became a complete success at Selhurst Park, but he was a very useful player when on the pitch.
He returned to France with Montpellier this summer. Now 31-years-old, his career must be deemed as a failure due to his inability to reach his full potential.
What if Sakho never got that ban?
This is the big question. If Mama Sakho never did receive that unfair ban from UEFA, would he still be at Liverpool today?
People seem to forget that he was actually really good when he was on the pitch. There were very few weaknesses in his game. He was a much better defender than the likes of Lovren and Skrtel in our opinion.
We think that, if they both stayed fit, he and Matip could have formed a top-class partnership.
Yes, it was the persistent lateness that saw him fall out of favour with Jurgen Klopp. But it probably all came from that ban that, as we must stress, was overturned eventually.
Imagine for a minute that Sakho and Matip started that 2016/17 season together and played the majority of games in the league together.
Would they have fared well enough to prevent Liverpool from buying Virgil van Dijk in January 2018?
We believe that it is possible. No, they would not have been up to the level of the Reds’ defence with the Dutchman in the side, but they would have been good enough to stop Klopp and co. thinking of signing a new centre-back.
In that sense, maybe it was a blessing in disguise. But we still cannot help but believe that Sakho’s career at Liverpool was one big missed opportunity.
One thing for sure is that Kopites ought to remember just how solid a player he really was, because that much seems to be forgotten.