Barcelona had watched him. Borussia Dortmund had watched him. He was being monitored by numerous sides in the English Premier League, and he had piqued the interest of scouts from Italy’s Serie A, too. Sadio Mané’s ability to dazzle and destroy opponents during his two-year spell at Red Bull Salzburg received no shortage of attention, no surprise either, given that the winger possessed the combined assets of raw pace and sharp decision-making.
African footballers are often lauded for their pace and power. Along with Sadio Mané, these players will be stretching every sinew on the pitch at the 2017 Africa Cup Of Nations:
- Eric Bailly
- Kalidou Koulibaly
Just about every top European club had compiled a dossier on the Senegal international, but with the Austrian outfit placing a €15 million price tag on Mané, he was seen as a financial risk: could someone with such a small frame compete in a more physical, combative league?
Ultimately, the player’s diligence and will to excel – honed during his time at the Génération Foot academy in his homeland’s capital, Dakar – would put this beyond all doubt.
Mané was 12 when he was scouted by Génération Foot – his talent was unmistakable even as a scrawny kid in Dakar – and six years later, he joined Metz as part of a partnership deal with the football school.
Throughout his developmental years, it was not only the player’s quicksilver feet that impressed: his work ethic was relentless. For Mané, it wasn’t simply about beating the full-back, laying off assists or getting his name on the scoresheet – he wanted to track back, to strangle the opposition with sustained pressing, to regain possession and set his team on the front foot once more.
Salzburg, keen to introduce a player who perfectly fitted their dynamic philosophy, parted with €4m for Mané and were repaid in kind: he fired in 45 goals during his two full seasons in Austria. When Southampton came calling in 2014, desperate to take Mané to the English Premier League, his value had risen greatly, and after some pushing from the player himself, he joined the Saints for £11.8m on a four-year deal. The team from England’s South Coast would have the same problem fending off interest from Europe’s elite as his previous club; at St Mary’s, Mané was proving he could indeed mix it – and even produce man-of-the-match performances – in a stronger league.
His former coaches at Génération Foot knew it wouldn’t be long before the attacker was on the move again. In the winter of 2015, Manchester United were circling, and Mané met up with Jurgen Klopp, then at Dortmund.
After a big-money move to Liverpool at the start of the 2016/17 campaign, Mané has flourished under Jurgen Klopp and guaranteed his place in the team.
The fluid movement of the Reds’ front three has given free rein to his pace and dribbling abilities. Much of Senegal’s attack will flow through the 24-year-old.
No move materialised, but the Red Devils renewed their interest in January. For their part, Southampton refused to lose him mid-season, but with Mané continuing to turn in decisive displays, they couldn’t hold out when 2015/16 had ended.
Klopp, now manager of Liverpool, would not let Mané slip through his fingers again, and in June 2016 the Reds signed him for £30m. In just a few months, he became a favourite among fans and players. “It’s been very good playing with Sadio so far, but if anything he’s too fast!” jokes fellow Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho. “That’s good, because you need this in your game. Everyone is very happy with him – he’s a nice guy and a very good player.”
Already a strong candidate for Player Of The Season, Mané is sure to tear it up on the AFCON stage after impressively powering Senegal through the qualifiers.
The ex-Villarreal defender has been one of the few bright spots for José Mourinho’s Manchester United in a difficult start to the season. Well used to shouldering responsibility, the quick, aggressive youngster will provide muscle and security in the Ivory Coast’s back line.
Some of Europe’s top teams tried to swoop for the giant defender this summer, but ‘K2’ has remained at Napoli for now. The Senegalese centre-back is known for his strength and aerial ability, but he has also vastly improved his ball-playing skills.