Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho insists: 'I'm here for football, not money'

France international left Paris Saint-Germain because he knew Liverpool could fulfil his desire 'to genuinely compete'

He was "a child" of Paris Saint-Germain, the club's equivalent of Steven Gerrard and a player the French champions would give everything to keep, according to their president, Nasser al-Khelaifi. But the appeal to Mamadou Sakho's emotional allegiance to his boyhood club was always destined to fail. Quite simply it arrived too late.

There was considerable unease around Parc des Princes and fresh questions asked of PSG's Qatari owners when Sakho joined Liverpool for €19m (£16m) on transfer deadline day. A symbol of the club having made his debut at 17, the defender became the youngest ever captain of a Ligue 1 side shortly afterwards but his career had stalled in the past two seasons under Carlo Ancelotti amid increasing competition from big-name, big-money recruits. The transfer fee also represented sound financial sense for a player in the final year of his contract.

And yet, as Khelaifi recognised, Sakho was one of the few players that PSG supporters could identify with, someone who at 23 had time to realise his immense potential in the French capital. But while many in Paris are at a loss to understand his departure, the France international is clear in his reasons for rejecting a new contract and moving to Anfield. That potential now belongs to Liverpool where, despite an understandably rusty debut at Swansea City on Monday, the manager, Brendan Rodgers, believes Sakho can be a fixture in the club's central defence for the next 10 years.

"Of course it was a big step for me to leave," says Sakho. "I'd been with Paris St-Germain from the age of 12 but there comes a time in every player's life when you have to make some career choices. I had achieved everything I had wanted to do with Paris St-Germain, we had won the title and I made the decision a while ago that I wanted to take on something else. I knew I wanted to experience a different culture and learn new things and when Liverpool came in for me I was easily convinced. I was happy to leave in the end.

"There is a big project under way in Paris and that reflects their ambition but my situation was based more on my desire to genuinely compete and that is something I know I will have at Liverpool. It was an impulse to leave Paris St-Germain. There are so many new players coming into the club but they didn't push me out at all. It was all about me wanting to go out and genuinely compete."

Despite claiming it was not competition from Alex, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos in Laurent Blanc's side that shaped his decision, Sakho is clearly uncomfortable with PSG's direction under Qatar Sports Investments. "There are different styles between Paris St-Germain and Liverpool," he adds. "There is the influx of money or building player-by-player to fill out the squad. The Paris model was very business-minded in that sense but I have come here to a club that functions with a family mentality. That is what suits me and I feel already that we have everybody in the family group, heading towards the same goal."

Sakho, handed an unscheduled debut at Swansea on Monday due to a freak rib injury suffered by Daniel Agger, believes his aerial ability, pace and strength are ideally suited to the Premier League. Indeed, he stunned Liverpool with his power by breaking a weights-machine during the medical. "Yes, that's true," he laughs. "Strength is one of my attributes and one of the machines did break. Something went wrong with it, so they had to fix it – not reinforce it. I am a defender and I need to use my strength, but I still need to fill out more and bulk-up to progress."

But the 23-year-old almost never made it as far as this. PSG may have failed in their attempts to keep Sakho but they did curb his volatility as a rebellious teenager. His commitment was questioned several times in Paris and, around 14, he was threatened with expulsion from the club after a run-in too many with team-mates and coaches.

"What can I say? I grew up in an area of Paris that isn't all sweet and nice," admits Sakho, who lived in the 18th and 21st arrondissements. "The neighbourhood was quite tough. At that age you have to put yourself about a bit and earn some respect. When I was 14, 15, I tried to impose myself a bit too much on the other players around me. It was a bit physical, a bit verbal. I was just a teenager.

"It was made clear that if I didn't step back in line, I would be in trouble. I soon learned that I had to knuckle down and focus. It was for my own good. I was over the rebellious phase before my father died but that was when I took a step back and decided to concentrate on becoming a professional footballer. Life was pretty hard at that time but I took it on as an obligation to myself to become a pro and provide for my family."

Sakho became one of the most expensive defenders in Liverpool's history four months before he was eligible to leave France on a free transfer. But he feels no added pressure to deliver at Anfield. "For me the price they paid is of no significance. Personally I am not bothered by it," he says.

"I have been brought here to fill a need of the club. The most important thing is to come here and wear the shirt with pride and to take the club as high as possible. This is a new page in the history of Liverpool and for me – I want to make my mark on that page. I came here for the football, not the money. I had a year left on my contract and in four months I could have gone on a Bosman. I put football and the chance to move here above any personal gain."

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