Recently named African Footballer of the Year, Sadio Mané is a player whose star is on the rise. Michael Renouf profiles the career of Liverpool’s silken-skilled Senegalese striker
When Sadio Mané was named African Footballer of the Year for 2019 at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Awards ceremony in January it was a just reward for a trophy-laden year. Winning the prestigious award for the first time, the striker beat his Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah into second place, thus reversing the result of the previous two years.
Liverpool’s number 10 has come a long way since growing up in the small Senegalese village of Bambali in the 90s.
He made his league debut for the relatively unknown French side Metz in Ligue 2 in 2012, where he made a handful of appearances before moving to Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg later that year.
This was also the year that he made his debut for the Senegal national team (against Morocco, also scoring his first international goal in only his second international, a 3-1 victory over Liberia in a World Cup qualifier).
In Austria, he would pick up his first silverware in the professional game, helping his new club in his second season there to a league and cup double. However, despite scoring a hat-trick in the semi-final in a 7-0 demolition of Horn, he did not actually play in the final.
Move to English football
While in Austria he scored 31 goals in 63 Bundesliga games, which soon drew the attention of a Premier League club, but not one of the big boys – it was Southampton that he signed for on 1 September 2014. On 23 September he played his first game in English football – in an away tie versus Arsenal in the League Cup, in which he helped the south coast club to a 2-1 victory.
Four days later he made his Premier League debut, this time helping the Saints to a 2-1 victory over QPR. It was not long before he scored his first goal for his new employers, netting the only goal of the game in the 25 October home victory over Stoke City in the Premier League.
At Southampton he also set a record that may never be beaten, the fastest EPL hat-trick ever. It was 16 May 2015 when Aston Villa travelled south for the penultimate game of the season. Mané opened the scoring in the 13th minute and 2 minutes 56 seconds later struck his third. This put Southampton 3-0 up thanks to some Keystone Cops type defending in a game that would finish 6-1 to the home team.
He beat a record that had stood since 1994, when Robbie Fowler put three into the Arsenal net past England goalkeeper David Seaman in four minutes 33 seconds to give Liverpool a 3-0 victory.
Settling in at Liverpool
On 28 June 2016 Jurgen Klopp shelled out £34m to take Mané to Liverpool, after 21 goals in 67 league appearances for Southampton, which made him the most expensive African player at the time. It took him no time at all to settle in his new surroundings, as he scored on his debut in a 4-3 away triumph over Robbie Fowler’s former victims, Arsenal.
It was later, on Valentine’s Day 2018, that he scored his first hat-trick for Liverpool, away to Porto in the Champions League, although this time it took him a whole hour from first goal to last.
The same year, Liverpool reached the Champions League final in Kiev against perennial European champions Real Madrid. Ten minutes into the second half, the Senegalese hitman drew his team level with a close-range finish.
However, a Gareth Bale double (one a superb effort and another that my dog could have saved, in between which Mané struck the woodwork) took the trophy back to the Spanish capital for the third year in a row.
Winning the silverware
2019 was a much more successful year, with a host of silverware, both team and individual, finding its way into Sadio’s trophy cabinet.
His team finished runners-up in the league, going agonisingly close to winning for the first time since 1989-90 only to be pipped by a solitary point by Manchester City.
The next order of business was to go one step further in the Champions League, defeating fellow Premier League competitors Tottenham 2-0 in the 2019 final. The match was played by coincidence in Madrid and it must have felt for fans of Los Blancos as if Mané, Salah, Firmino and co were rubbing it in that Real’s run as European Champions had finally come to an end after three wins in a row.
Following this, it was time for international duty. Mané and his teammates reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations before succumbing 1-0 to Algeria in the final. But it was a game where even the most ardent Algerian fans would have to admit that the Lions of Teranga deserved to win.
Every year the winners of the Champions League face off against the Europa League winners – who were yet more English rivals in 2019, in the form of Chelsea. The game finished 2-2 after extra time, with Mané scoring both of the Reds’ goals, before the Merseyside team triumphed on penalties. December brought around the FIFA Club World Cup and another trophy as Liverpool defeated Flamengo of Brazil 1-0 in the final in extra time.
From Africa’s best to FIFA’s best?
Mané has achieved all despite being born into a dirt-poor family who were deeply religious and wanted a different path for him in life. At first, they were not supportive of his dream but once they realised that football was the only thing that interested the young Sadio they finally came around.
With a strike rate of around one goal in every two games for Liverpool, Mané has not only been a success on the field. He is often described as a humble man who has remembered his roots, having financed a school and a hospital in the village that he grew up in.
Mané and Salah have dominated the African Player of the Year award in recent seasons; how long before this translates into Mané being named Best FIFA Men’s Player?
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