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Neil Mellor Interview: Mane Uncertainty 'Isn't Helping Him or Liverpool'

8 June 2022

We spoke with former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor about the Sadio Mane situation, as well as the possible arrivals of Darwin Nunez and Jarrod Bowen.

Do you think there is any possibility of Sadio Mane staying at Liverpool for the upcoming season?

"There’s a lot of uncertainty. They’ll want it to get sorted as soon as possible. 

"When Mane arrived from Southampton, he was a top player. He’s become a world-class player at Liverpool. In the six seasons he’s been at Liverpool, he’s delivered.

"He’s been a consistent performer, he’s been available. I think he’s got 20 goals in four of those six seasons, so he’s been incredible. 

"The fans appreciate him, the manager appreciates him, and the only surprise is that he’s wanting to leave if that is the case.

"It needs to be sorted out as soon as possible because the uncertainty isn’t helping him or Liverpool."

Can Liverpool afford to lose Mane and potentially Mohamed Salah in the space of 12 months?

"I’d be surprised if Liverpool lost both players. Both have been so important, but as we know, sometimes you have to move on. 

"I think Salah will stay next season, but if it is the right time for the players, the club will always move on, whoever that is. There have been great players in the past, and the recruitment has been great for Liverpool as well in recent seasons. 

"You look at Diaz coming in, in January, I think he’s been a seamless introduction to the team as well. 

"It would have probably been unthinkable 12 months ago to lose both players, but to lose one of them I think would be bearable for what Liverpool are replacing."

Darwin Nunez has been among those linked with a move to Anfield. How likely do you think it is that a deal gets done?

"What a player! I watched him in the Champions League for Benfica and I was thinking, ‘Wow!’ He’s only young - what is he, 22? He’s an international already with Uruguay. I watched him, and I was thinking he’s an absolute handful. He’s got the lot in terms of the movement, the finishing, and the pace as well. 

"He is an exciting young talent, and there’s no doubt about it - he is going to be in big demand this summer, so whoever is his most likely option - I think there is a big player and a big future there for him. I was impressed with what I saw. 

"If Liverpool are in for him, then Liverpool are an appealing option for any top young player at the moment, and he would certainly be one of those."

Jarrod Bowen is another player that Liverpool are reportedly interested in. How do you think he would fare in Jurgen Klopp’s side?

"I think every player now around Europe is thinking, ‘I could sign for Liverpool if that was possible,’ because they are one of the top clubs about but, also, the manager improves these players. 

"We talked about Mane - taking him from a top player to a world-class player - Liverpool give these players the platform to do that and it’ll be so appealing for so many players to want to come to Liverpool. 

"Bowen has been outstanding for West Ham - a very important player for West Ham - they’re not going to want to lose him. 

"But it’s a question of who the manager would want through the door because there is no doubt about it - Liverpool are a very appealing option for players in Europe at the moment."

Christian Pulisic has also been linked. What do you think about the likelihood of that one and how would he fit in?

"Every summer, Liverpool are linked with about 100 players and it’s difficult to know how many are realistic and how many are just stories put into the papers.

"Before Jurgen arrived, Liverpool were in a position where they missed out on targets. Liverpool now can get who they want, and that is the big difference. You could argue about wages but Liverpool can be picky about who they want to be bringing in this summer. It’s about who can add quality to the group and strengthen the group. 

"Pulisic is an outstanding player, but it’s all about the manager wanting this player or not and if he fits into it. 

"The fans have a connection, belief, and trust in this manager, and for him to sign his new contract and commit himself to Liverpool, the fans are like, ‘You get who you want because we trust your recruitment will be right to improve the team.'"

How much of an impact are you expecting from Fabio Carvalho upon his arrival at Anfield?

"I think it’s a big pre-season for him. He’s only 19 and he stood out in his first real season for Fulham last year. He can play in the front three, he can play as an attacking midfield player - he’s another one who has got a real exciting future. 

"But it’s up to him to come to Liverpool and impress the manager and say, ‘I want to be a part of the plans.’

"The manager will not be afraid to play any young player if they show the right sort of attitude and the right sort of quality. We’ve seen that before. Harvey Elliott was a great example - he did brilliantly in the Championship on loan with Blackburn. He came back and the manager thought, ‘Yeah, I like the look of you, you’re in.’ 

"And that could be the same for Carvalho if he impresses in pre-season, so it’s all about how he comes back and shows the right sort of attitude because he will get opportunities."

What else would you like to see Liverpool do in the transfer market?

"From a Liverpool point of view at the moment, I really enjoy watching the team and I’m thinking, ‘Who is going to improve this squad at the moment?’ It’s very difficult. 

"I believe in the recruitment system. I think Liverpool are at an advantage at the moment to make the most of the position they are in with the manager and the fact that they are a top side in Europe competing for the biggest trophies. 

"All I would say is if Liverpool were to lose any players, I’d like to see them replaced as soon as possible. But it’s hard to see who can better the already-top-quality starting XI at Liverpool."

In what areas do you think they should be looking to strengthen?

"I thought the defence contributed well last season with a number of clean sheets, and the goalie got Golden Glove. I think they have got one of the best goalies, centre-halves, and defensive midfielders in world football. 

"The only area you could say Liverpool could possibly improve - and Steven Gerrard mentioned it at the Champions League final - is maybe a midfielder who can try and hit double figures. But there is no pressure on that because the front three are scoring so many goals. 

"Whilst the front three are scoring, it hasn’t been a problem for Liverpool’s midfielders to hit double figures. It would be nice, but it’s not a necessity and it’s not something that Liverpool are glaringly missing because they can compete for all the major trophies - as they showed last season. 

"It’s going to be a squad game, and Liverpool know that all of the players need to contribute. Liverpool are in a good place at the moment, they really are."

There is talk that Liverpool are set to offer Naby Keita a new contract. Do you think that would be justified?

"When Naby came, I thought he could be one of the best players in the Premier League but he hasn’t shown that consistency and I’m not sure we’ve seen the best of him. 

"He’s only 27, so he’s still young, and I think he’s been unfortunate with injuries and he hasn’t been able to have a consistent run in the team. 

"Last season was his best season, I don’t think you can argue with that. He got 40 appearances for Liverpool. I thought he was a very good squad player to come in. 

"I don’t see him in Liverpool’s strongest starting XI, but what I do see is a very good squad player to come in and make the difference in other games. 

"We saw that in Champions League games and we saw that in Premier League games. So yeah, absolutely, the manager likes him, and it would be good to see him sign a new deal."

James Milner has signed a new contract at Liverpool. How important is that for the Reds?

"Wow. James Milner. People will argue, could he be one of the greatest free transfers the Premier League has seen? He has been unbelievable at every club he has represented.

"Seven seasons he has been at Liverpool now. He’s at the front in pre-season, every pre-season. He’s reliable, he’s dependable. His professionalism is what makes Liverpool’s dressing room a great environment to be in. 

"Liverpool are a top side on the pitch, but the dressing room is really strong and that is because of players like James Milner. He is invaluable off the pitch and has shown that quality on it. 

"So, I’m made up to see him sign that new contract because we’re talking about Carvalho arriving from Fulham and you’ve got Harvey Elliott, you’ve got Trent - you’ve got a lot of young players around the squad and they need those leaders within the dressing room and Milner is that. So, I’m made up to see that he’s staying."

Reports suggest Liverpool are closing in on a deal for Aberdeen right-back Calvin Ramsay. What do you make of this potential signing?

"I haven’t seen a lot of him - I have to be honest - but I trust the recruitment policy. 

"I don’t know how good he could be, but again it just shows that the top young British players are wanting to sign for Liverpool because there is a pathway there to play. 

"For some big clubs, it can be difficult for young players to play. Liverpool have a manager who will give young players that chance, and that’s why the top players in Britain are wanting to come and sign for Liverpool and if that is the case, I don’t know how good he is or how good he could be, but it shows how attractive Liverpool are for these young players."

After a successful loan spell with Fulham, do you think Neco Williams should seek another move for the upcoming campaign or try and earn some opportunities at Liverpool, bearing in mind that he will want to impress in a World Cup year?

"I really like Neco. I watched him at the academy develop from a 16-year-old playing under Steven Gerrard thinking, ‘Wow, I like him.' 

"He is a player who can play left-back or right-back. He’s unfortunate because he has got one of the best right-backs in world football in the first-team ahead of him. But I think he can be a squad player next season. 

"I’d like to see him stick about at Liverpool, I really would. Because I think he would get game time, and I think he showed his influence and his contribution at Fulham is probably too good for that level. I think he is ready to be a squad player for Liverpool. 

"I hope he stays because I really do like him as a player. I get the whole Wales and World Cup thing - a great achievement for them and he’s a starter there - but I think he can learn a lot around some of the best players in world football if he sticks about at Liverpool."

We saw a lot of Harvey Elliott at the start of last season and the injury got in the way of his progression to some extent. How big a role do you think he, and also Curtis Jones, can have next season?

"It’s about managing these young players as they learn and develop. I think the manager has done that well. 

"I think Harvey Elliott was a surprise because I’d only seen him in a front three, and then all of a sudden he is playing in centre midfield and is comfortable there as well - and that is the manager seeing that in him. 

"Liverpool know that they have got young talent, but it’s not putting too much pressure on them too early to say they need to be in the team and be at these levels. Curtis Jones is another one who is developing nicely, and Harvey, so the manager is handling them very well and that is the importance of the squad.

"Being able to rotate with the likes of James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Thiago, Naby Keita - there are enough players to rotate in order to maintain the players’ development for these young players like Harvey and Curtis."

Do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could find himself out of that rotation? Could it be time to call it a day?

"I’ve liked Ox, I must admit. For me, he has contributed this season with various goals and various assists at different times. 

"I think he’s been unfortunate that Liverpool have been so strong in midfield and maybe he hasn’t got the game time he would have wanted in terms of there not being that many injuries in that position. 

"He has been a top pro, he’s been unfortunate with injuries - when he was flying at one stage for Liverpool - but he is well-liked within the dressing room and I suppose that is the conversation he has got to have with the manager. 

"If his game time is going to be limited, maybe a new opportunity might be for him. 

"I will look at Ox for his time at Liverpool - if he does go - and think he did alright for Liverpool with his contributions."

With the way that Manchester City have already strengthened for next season, can Liverpool run them close again in the Premier League title race?

"Yes - if Liverpool can avoid injuries like last season. Liverpool, as we know, the season before struggled with injuries and that’s why they were off the pace. Last season, they were fully strong and fortunate with injuries and that’s why they could compete with Man City. 

"I think the mentality as well will be there from Liverpool. We’ve seen it before when they missed out on a major trophy - the Champions League and Premier League in the past - and they have responded. I think the mentality will be there from the group to push City as hard as they can again, but it’s difficult. 

"City and Liverpool are way ahead of every other Premier League team and that has been reflected for the last four or five seasons in the table. Only Liverpool have been able to push City - no one else has got anywhere near it so it will be difficult but injury-free, the mentality will be there - hopefully, it can be a good battle again."

Do you think any of the chasing pack - and which of them - can get close to Liverpool and City next season?

"I haven’t seen any signs of it, no. I think the biggest problem for them is consistency. 

"Chelsea have got a top quality manager and top quality players, but just dipped away at key moments. Maybe the off-field issues didn’t help them with the ownership there. I expected more of a challenge from them. 

"I see them as the closest to Liverpool and City, but Liverpool and City have been so good with their identity, their intensity on the pitch, and their consistency. 

"Chelsea are the only ones I could see getting close next season but since they last won the Premier League, they have been 20 points or more off the top place so it shows how much of a gap they need to make up."

Liverpool failed to score in any of the three finals they took part in last season. How concerning do you think that is?

"I went to two of those finals, and as a fan, all I want to see is the team lift the trophy. However that happens, that is the most important thing with any major final. Liverpool won two of those three finals, so it was a successful return. 

"It’s surprising that Liverpool didn’t score because they had so many opportunities, so many chances. In the League Cup final, they had 20 shots, in the FA Cup final they had 17, and in the Champions League final they had 24. Liverpool were not short of chances, they just didn’t take those chances on the day.

"So, no concern whatsoever because Liverpool lifted two of those three trophies which is the ultimate aim."

An estimated 500,000 fans turned out for the parade the day after the Champions League final defeat. What did you make of that?

"At the time I was thinking, ‘How good an idea is it?’ And then when I saw it I was like ‘Wow. This football club is really special.’ 

"You could see the connection, which has been a real strength of the manager to bring that connection with himself, the players, and the fans. The appreciation was there from the fans to say, ‘OK, we missed out on the Champions League and the Premier League but we love watching this team and competing for the biggest trophies.’ 

"It was unique, and I thought it was a really good idea when I saw the scenes. The players now go away for the summer in a good mood and can’t wait to get back for next season rather than being flat having lost the Champions League final. It was great scenes, and again, that connection is so strong with the fans, and they’ll need that again next season."

Your former club Preston North End had to settle for another mid-table finish last season - what do you think the realistic targets should be for next season?

"It’s not that disappointing to be mid-table for Preston when you look at their budget compared to the rest of the teams in the Championship. 

"There are a lot of teams that have bigger budgets or have experienced the Premier League. For Preston, I think the aim is always mid-table and can we get towards those playoffs and get an outside chance. 

"Preston have been in the Championship for seven seasons in a row now. They’ve had four out of seven top half finishes but are yet to be in the playoffs. 

"I cannot believe that my team was the last team to be in the Championship playoffs with Preston. 

"It’s achievable when you look at Huddersfield and Luton, but it is a very, very difficult challenge for Preston. 

"Ultimately, mid-table is good, and the playoffs would be unbelievable because of how competitive the Championship is and I can’t wait to watch the Championship again next season because it’s so hard to call. 

"What I would say is Preston need to improve on their home form. There were too many draws at home last season and I think that ultimately proved costly.

"Eleven points off the playoffs is a big gap but I think too many draws at home so if they can improve in that area, I think they can try and close that gap."