From as early as last January it became clear that Liverpool's defensive machinery was in need of some serious summer maintenance. Jamie Carragher's retirement, Martin Skrtel's loss of form, and Seb Coates's transition to life in the Witness Protection Program meant that at least two center backs were needed at the transfer window's outset.
Manchester City's Kolo Toure arrived on a free, and has since more than proven his worth, but attempts to sign Kyriakos Papadopoulos (truly horrifying I correctly spelled that from memory) from Schalke and Toby Alderweireld from Ajax proved futile. With the transfer deadline looming, Liverpool went out and acquired Mamadou Sakho - a player that really never should have been on the market in the first place.
A club captain upon his league debut as a 17 year-old, Sakho's leadership ability and commitment to his hometown PSG made him an icon for the club's supporters from an exceptionally early age. By 2008, he was already a locked-in starter for Paul Le Guen and maintained his status under Antoine Kombouare at the start of Qatar Sports Investment's reign.
It was Kombouare's harsh dismissal in December 2011, with his side top of the Ligue 1 table, that started Sakho's slide. Despite initially retaining his starting berth and captaincy under Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian stripped Sakho of both in March of 2012 and the defender never fully regained his place.
Thiago Silva's colossal signing in the summer of 2012 initially promised a Silva-Sakho axis that could keep clean sheets, play the ball on the floor, and destroy Godzilla should the monster dare emerge from the ocean depths. This dream partnership never developed as QSI's emphasis on immediate results (resulting in Ancelotti's very public "I thought this was a project" grousing) saw the Parisian largely relegated to third choice behind Silva and Alex, though he still garnered a respectable 29 starts across all competitions last term.
His gleeful celebrations at the club's Ligue 1 conquest in the spring meant little to the club's hierarchy, who Fedexed the GDP of Rhode Island to Roma for another Brazilian center back. The big money arrival of teenaged phenom Marquinhos was truly the end for Sakho and PSG. Neither the present and no longer the future, the hometown boy had little choice but to seek pastures abroad if he wanted to join Didier Deschamps in Brazil (of all places) this summer.
Like everything else at PSG, Sakho's development seems to have been radically altered following the arrival of the Qatari backers. More knowledgeable experts of French football than I have noted Sakho's occasional struggles with immaturity and penchant for enjoying French cuisine. Consider again that the Frenchman was captain material as a teenager, ended his PSG career just shy of 200 appearances, and constantly rebuffed big-time offers from abroad during PSG's leaner pre-QSI years, and you start to wonder if the new club hierarchy was a bit coarse in the handling of its budding star.
And that last bit is the main point from a Liverpool perspective. Despite Sakho's tumble down the Parisian pecking order over the last 18 months, the Reds have acquired one hell of a player. At 6'2" and 185 pounds, you can chuckle at the thought of Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku, or any of Stoke's bruising forwards "bullying" Liverpool's new number 17. Crucially, Sakho is also fleet of foot and won't get caught on the turn easily - this last factor seeming to have been the downfall of Coates.
My favorite aspect of Sakho's game however, is that his physical prowess is equaled by a tremendous comfort with the ball at his feet. Sakho's 69% aerial duel success rate in 2012/2013 betters Daniel Agger's 62% mark. Equally so, the Frenchman's 92% pass completion rate at an average length of 20 meters marginally betters the vice-captain's 89% and 19m corresponding rates. Like I said, Liverpool is getting an absolute beast of a center back and the club's willingness to wire 16.7 million pounds across the Channel reflects that this is no secret.
The big thing for Sakho at Liverpool will be how the club handles the issues that supposedly made him available in the first place - immaturity and fitness/diet. I, for one, retain great confidence in the club to deal with both these issues.
Daniel Sturridge arrived with a similar reputation for possessing an ego and a dash of moodiness that made him hard to work with at both City and Chelsea. Since his arrival, we've only seen sweat and smiles. His goal-scoring rate to start his Liverpool career garners all the attention, but people are too quick to forget his spell as a substitute last winter. There was no complaining or moaning, the striker simply put his head down and worked his socks off to make it back into the starting eleven. His reputation as a malcontent either behind him or a total fabrication in the first place.
Regarding fitness, Rodgers's tailored approach has already seen previously fragile players like Steven Gerrard and the aforementioned Agger turn into ironmen of the highest degree. Assuming Sakho's diet is no longer an issue (having made this exact pilgrimage last spring, I imagine the defender will be less tempted to indulge at Merseyside restaurants than in his Parisian haunts), the club should be able to keep him on the field without much trouble.
There will certainly be an adjustment period for Sakho as he makes his Merseyside move. New club, new country, new language and all the logistical frustrations that come en tow. The more important difference however, is that Sakho is once again both the present and the future at his club. Should he throw himself head first into his Liverpool adventure, it's not hard to imagine a band wrapping his arm and a similar love affair with the club's support in a few years time.