Emre Can's future at Liverpool has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks because of the impasse in contract talks between him and the Merseyside club.
Some reports suggest the midfielder is demanding £100,000 a week, while others claim he's "only" looking to double his current £35k a week salary. Either way, his performances have not even come close to justifying that kind of pay rise, but that doesn't mean he won't get it.
Liverpool's recent policy seems to be to reward anyone who has a good few months with a new contract and pay rise. Whether it's a player, manager or sporting director, as soon as the Reds string a few performances together it's back slapping and new deals all around.
Philippe Coutinho was given a contract extension and pay rise even though his current deal still had several years left to run. He started the season in scintillating form, but was given that contract soon after returning from a six-week injury layoff and frankly he's been mediocre at best ever since. Was that deal really necessary at that time?
Joe Gomez is another. He was given a new five-year contract even though he was only 18 months into a long-term deal he signed when he joined the club in the summer of 2015. It's not as though he'd outplayed his contract, because he's hardly played at all following a serious knee injury. Not his fault of course, but usually a player needs to prove himself before being handed a new contract.
Then there's the strange case of Michael Edwards, the "blue-eyed boy" of Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group. In his time at Anfield he has been promoted from Head of Performance to Director of Technical Performance and then to Technical Director (he was also one of the most influential voices on the now infamous "transfer committee"). Last November he was promoted again to Sporting Director following Liverpool's flying start to this season.
Though many of the senior figures involved in Liverpool's continued underachievement under FSG have been shipped out, Edwards, a former Damian Comolli protege, has remained in the owners' good graces despite his fingerprints being all over a string of poor signings.
For a while, Jurgen Klopp was able to make some of those signings (including Can) look better than they probably are, but in recent months the lack of depth on Liverpool's squad has been horribly exposed. Still, Edwards had long since secured his promotion before the wheels fell off Liverpool's title challenge.
Former boss Brendan Rodgers spoke recently of how he twice wanted to move for Virgil van Dijk but was told by Liverpool's recruitment team that the Dutchman was "not for us". Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori were for them though, and neither are currently at the club while Van Dijk is now one of the most wanted players in the Premier League.
Rodgers was far from blameless in Liverpool's transfer failings, but he paid for that with his job while others were rewarded with promotions. Naturally, Rodgers had previously been handed a bumper long-term contract after one good season, meaning it cost FSG upwards of £15m to get rid of him and his staff a year later.
His successor Klopp had only been at the club eight months before he was rewarded with a new six-year deal, despite finishing in eighth place. Supporters had no objection to that deal of course, but if you're the agent of Emre Can or another player, you probably see Liverpool as an easy mark who are too quick to reward employees for doing very little.
Can undoubtedly has ability and potential, but he is like most in Liverpool's squad in that he doesn't deliver his best form anywhere near often enough, and his performance against Arsenal last weekend was one of the few occasions he's risen above average all season.
Despite his lacklustre form, Can's reputation is still largely intact because of his age and his nationality. Any 23-year-old who is involved with the German national side has to have something. His supporters will point to his phenomenal performance against Borussia Dortmund last season as evidence of the level he can reach, but top players produce performances like that on a weekly basis, not once or twice a season.
Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso were at that level virtually every time they set foot on the field. A decade ago, Liverpool supporters would sing about having "the best midfield in the world" and it was no exaggeration. Some would argue that even now, well into their 30s, Mascherano and Alonso would improve Liverpool's midfield.
If Liverpool aspire to get back to the level they were at when they had that "best midfield in the world," they need better players than Can. He could still be worth keeping around as a squad man who could potentially develop into a very good player, but only if the price is right.
Can's current bargaining position isn't particularly strong given the way he's played this season, but if he were to end the campaign strongly he probably feels Liverpool would cave in to his demands as they have done with others. That would be a mistake.
Regardless of how he performs between now and May, Liverpool absolutely should not overpay to keep Can, even if it means they are forced to sell him this summer.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.
- English Premier League
- Emre Can
- Coutinho, Phillippe
- Joseph Gomez
- Mamadou Sakho
- Tiago Ilori