Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson has defended Mamadou Sakho from accusations he lacks professionalism as the Frenchman prepares to face former club Liverpool.
The 28-year-old joined Palace permanently in September for £26million, having impressed while on loan at Selhurst Park after his relationship with Reds boss Jurgen Klopp broke down.
Sakho was sent home from Liverpool’s 2016 pre-season tour of the United States for repeatedly breaking club rules, and did not play for the Merseysiders thereafter but remained at the club – despite interest from Stoke and West Brom, and expressing his frustration on social media – until joining Palace on loan in January 2017.
Hodgson has not experienced any such issues with the player, however, and says the pair have a good relationship.
“The fact is it’s not his professionalism that’s been a problem,” the 70-year-old said.
“It’s been his injury problems, that’s what it’s been. It’s not been a question of anything other than his struggle to recover from a calf injury that he picked up.
“We have a good relationship. I appreciate him as a player. There’s no doubt he has incredible qualities, and there is also no doubt if he and James Tomkins can form the partnership I’ve seen them perform in the games they’ve played together, a partnership like that through to the end of the season will make us strong in that area, on the ball and off the ball.
“With those two, they are very good on the ball and they make things happen when the ball is at their feet.
“He’s played a lot of football over the years. Sometimes these injuries are not as simple as, ‘I picked up this injury then’.
“They’re related to past injuries, and scar tissue, which is still in the muscle you’ve injured, that makes it that bit harder to get back to what you think is your 100 per cent fitness.”
Sakho remains a slight doubt to face his former team because of a calf issue, potentially worsening an injury list that already includes Jeffrey Schlupp, Bakary Sako, Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Joel Ward and Connor Wickham.
At Anfield last season he was unable to play against his parent club but courted controversy by celebrating on the touchline with Christian Benteke after his fellow ex-Red’s two goals secured victory for the visitors.
“I’ve never questioned his professionalism or had any reason to,” Hodgson added.
“You’d like to think sometimes when players play against their former clubs they give a little bit extra.
“I’ve certainly been on the wrong end of that plenty of times, especially having been an England coach, because the England players score against you, (Tottenham striker) Harry Kane being a classic example.”