Liverpool’s assistant manager Pep Lijnders has insisted Mohamed Salah’s commitment should never be doubted after his imminent return from the Africa Cup of Nations to have treatment on a hamstring injury provoked criticism.
The Egypt captain will fly back from the Ivory Coast on Wednesday so the club’s medical staff can take care of his rehabilitation, with the hope he could rejoin the national team should they reach the latter stages of the tournament.
That move has drawn criticism from Egypt’s record caps-holder Ahmed Hassan, who said Salah should have stayed with the team “even if he only had one leg to stand on”, but Lijnders has sprung to the 31-year-old’s defence.
“The one you should never doubt the commitment of is Mo Salah,” he said.
“I never met a guy, a player but also a human being, who is more committed to the life of being a professional football player.
“I know the country is devastated to lose him. We were devastated to hear he got injured.
“He played the first game, scores, assists, (he’s) captain and massively important, of course, but the only reason our medical team and their medical team decided for him to come back is to give the best possible chance to be available if Egypt make the final.
“What I’m really happy about is the medical team of Egypt and Liverpool Football Club worked together, were really in close contact and they made this decision together.
“It is an example of how international football and club football should co-operate to put the player in the centre and not the targets of everyone because it is a conflict of interest.
“All of us made the decision which is best for him and for him the best is having a stable environment, knowing the people and having people who are committed and have the time to focus on his rehab process and we know how it will go here in this facility.”
While Liverpool are likely to be without Salah until the middle of next month whatever the outcome of his rehabilitation, there is more positive news on the club’s long list of absentees.
Left-back Andy Robertson, who has been sidelined with a dislocated shoulder since October, is in the squad as Liverpool look to book their place at Wembley as they head into Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg away to Fulham with a 2-1 lead.
Not ready for that game but probably for the weekend are Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai, with Kostas Tsimikas another two weeks away from recovering fully from a broken collarbone.
But it is Robertson’s long-awaited return which will be a big boost.
“Robbo is now 13 weeks after surgery and he got clearance to train fully with the team, can make contact as the bone has healed and that’s really cool,” added Lijnders.
“I just met him in the canteen and he said, ‘Pep, I’ve brought my tracksuit with me today’. He only trained once, but he is pushing himself into the squad.
“Medical team say it’s a coaching decision – so he’s in.”
Liverpool just need to avoid defeat at Craven Cottage to book a return to Wembley two years after they won a domestic cup double.
“Playing finals is the most important thing for a team to develop. Playing in a semi-final in January is great and being able to reach Wembley is unbelievable,” said Ljnders.
“All these things have an impact on development.”