It is fair to say that Mohamed Salah has had defences on strings since his arrival at Liverpool.
And the same could be said about his agent, when it comes to Reds supporters.
What on earth could this one, a photograph (taken at Melwood, Liverpool’s old training ground, at least two years ago) of Salah laughing out loud while Abbas fiddles with his phone in the background, mean?
Most took it as a less-than-positive ‘update’ on the Egypt star’s contract situation. Fans are pretty concerned about that already, and the idea that Salah and his representative might be amused, even insulted, by the club’s offer - or lack of - has done little to calm their nerves.
Whether that is true or not, it is hard to escape the feeling that Salah and Liverpool have reached a critical stage.
For all Jurgen Klopp’s talk of “good conversations”, the fact remains that the Reds’ star player has less than 18 months left on his current deal, and history tells us that the longer these things drag on, the less likely a resolution becomes.
So what happens? Does Salah stay and renew, or does he run his contract down and leave on a free in 2023? Do Liverpool, as unpalatable as it may sound, even cash in this summer, perhaps?
Here GOAL takes a closer look at the situation…
There is no better place to start than with the money, and it is that, as much as anything else, which will dictate what happens next.
Salah says he has not asked for anything “crazy”, but we know he is looking for a big contract, a four-year deal that would not only make him the best-paid player in Liverpool’s history, but also one of the top earners in the Premier League.
Fair enough, you might say. After all, few players, if any, have performed to such a consistently high level over the past five years.
From the day he set foot inside Anfield, Salah has delivered. He has scored goals, broken record after record and won big trophies. He has picked up an array of individual awards, and is currently on course to win a third Premier League Golden Boot.
At present, he is not even Liverpool’s highest-paid player - Virgil van Dijk is, earning around £220,000 ($297,000) a week - even though Salah was ranked third on The Best FIFA Men’s Player list recently, and placed in the top 10 in each of the last three Ballons d’Or.
Liverpool know that they will have to break their existing wage structure if they wish to keep Salah beyond 2023. He will command a weekly salary well in excess of £300,000 ($405,000).
They are also acutely aware that he turns 30 in June, and that handing out mega, long-term contracts to players of that age is fraught with danger. Just ask Arsenal!
Klopp, however, believes the player’s professionalism and dedication will enable him to perform at the top level well into his 30s. Salah does too; he has missed only nine league games in his time at Anfield (and two of those were this month due to the Africa Cup of Nations) and believes he is currently in the best physical shape of his career.
There are few out there like him. So while a salary of, say, £20 million ($27m)-a-year might sound huge, the cost of replacing such a player, both in terms of transfer fee and wages, never mind performance level, would far exceed that, surely?
It was a summer of contract renewals at Anfield, with no fewer than seven first-team players signing new deals between June and September.
Alisson Becker, Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harvey Elliott are all in it for the long-haul, but from Salah’s perspective, the most intriguing sign-ups were those of Van Dijk and Jordan Henderson.
Both signed four-year deals in August, which will take them up to their 34th birthday in Van Dijk’s case, and beyond it in Henderson’s. Both are still seen as key players, on and off the field, and will be paid accordingly well into their 30s, even though both have had significant injury problems.
Similarly James Milner, the vice-captain, was given a three-year extension in December 2019, a month shy of his 34th birthday.
Liverpool may have refused to grant Gini Wijnaldum the pay-rise and long-term contract he wanted last year, much to the Netherlands international's disappointment, but they clearly do not have a hard-and-fast policy when it comes to players over 30.
Interestingly, Henderson’s deal came just a few weeks after stories emerged suggesting he had been unhappy with Liverpool’s initial offer, and that a number of top European clubs were monitoring his situation. The Reds responded quickly to fix that issue, but have not yet done so with Salah, despite a number of public declarations from the player that he would like to stay.
Klopp’s comments, at least, offer encouragement. “Nobody has to worry,” he said recently. “There are, I think, enough reasons for being pretty positive, but these things take time.”
That is a different approach to the one he took with Wijnaldum, or before that with Emre Can, when questions were dismissed pretty much instantly.
“Of course we want to keep him,” Klopp said earlier this month. “I am positive about it [and] the fans are not as nervous as you are. Now let’s see how it will work out.”
"There are a lot of things to consider – some on the club's side, some from the player's side and a lot from the agent's side.”
That was Klopp speaking on January 15, and five days later came Abbas’ ‘laugh out loud’ Twitter picture, the latest in a series of posts which could best be described as ‘open to interpretation.’
“I hope they’re watching,” Abbas posted after Salah had run Norwich ragged on the opening day of this season. Many took it as a direct message to Liverpool’s owners, chiefly Mike Gordon, who handles the day-to-day running of the club.
Last March, Abbas simply posted a full stop after Salah was surprisingly substituted in a defeat to Chelsea, while recently he set tongues wagging by engaging with Fabrizio Romano, the well-known journalist who specialises in round-the-clock transfer updates.
“A little bored these days,” Abbas replied when asked by Romano how he was.
There is a danger, of course, that we can read too much into these things, but Abbas is no fool. He knows how his words (or punctuation marks) will be discussed, dissected and interpreted. Maybe that is part of the fun for him.
Salah is his top client, pretty much his only client, and the forward's reputation globally has exploded during his time at Liverpool. He has huge commercial deals with the likes of Adidas and Pepsi, and has been able to enhance his profile outside of football, too.
He and Abbas know his value, and are very careful about the media access they grant; there is a reason, for example, that Salah was on the cover of GQ magazine this month, and there was a reason he spoke to Spanish publication AS last December.
He rarely speaks to the UK press, and even his club media appearances have been pared back.
Liverpool may have fallen foul of agents in the past - remember Aidy Ward and Raheem Sterling? - but they have been one of Europe’s biggest spenders when it comes to intermediary fees in recent years.
To keep Salah at Anfield, they will have to continue that trend, for sure.
There is no doubt that Liverpool are heading into a critical period, when it comes to the structure of both the team and the club.
Big changes are coming. Michael Edwards, the sporting director, is leaving at the end of the season, while Klopp’s contract is due to expire in a little over two years, and as yet there is no inkling of an extension.
And aside from Salah, the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, as well as Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, are all into the last 18 months of their respective deals.
How they handle these issues will be fascinating.
It is unlikely, for example, that all of Salah, Mane and Firmino will be given new contracts, but Salah is probably the only one who would attract a mega transfer fee. The trouble is, he is also the one who would leave the biggest hole, and would therefore cost the most to replace.
He certainly would not be short of suitors. It is unlikely that he would risk his Reds legacy by joining a rival Premier League club - Chelsea would be keenest - but the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid would almost certainly find a way to take him if they could.
Liverpool know they will need to make new signings, starting this summer. They know the team must evolve and that the age profile of the squad must come down, but would they seriously consider selling Salah or Mane (or both) in order to achieve that?
If they did, it would be the biggest risk Fenway Sports Group have ever taken, and probably the biggest mistake they have ever made too.
No player is bigger than Liverpool Football Club, but few are bigger than Salah right now.
The Reds simply have to sort out his situation, and the sooner the better.