At 15 years of age, Sadio Mane made the near 500-mile journey from his home north to Dakar in the small hope that someone might catch a glimpse of his talent.
Having grown up in the remote city of Sedhio in Senegal, the Liverpool superstar grew up on a diet football.
Never in his wildest dreams did he expect to become one of the finest players on the planet and a Premier League champion.
Such is Mane’s rise to the top is that even Lionel Messi, widely considered the greatest player of all time, admitted he was disappointed he finished outside of the top three in the 2019 Ballon d’Or vote.
“It’s a shame to see Mane finish in fourth place,” the Barcelona star said following the ceremony. “But I think there have been a lot of great players this year. That’s why it was difficult to choose a particular player. But I chose Sadio Mane because he’s a player that I like.
“Mane achieved a great year that was exceptional for the entire Liverpool team. That’s why I chose him. I repeat, there were a lot of very great players this year, so the choice was difficult.”
Nevertheless, the 27-year-old is now a European champion, Premier League champion and was named African Player of the Year in 2019.
It has been exactly four years since Liverpool paid Southampton £34million to take him to Anfield and prove him to be right to take the initial leap of faith.
Back in 2009, Mane left his home in the southern region of Senegal and travel to Mbour, 50 miles from Dakar, to play in the district championships.
It was here where he caught the eye of a local scout.
“I left my city to go to the capital with my uncle, and there were trials on,” Mane told Goal in 2016.
“We went to them and there were lots of boys being tested and getting organised into teams. I will never forget this, and it is funny now, but when I went to try out there was an older man that looked at me like I was in the wrong place.”
It quickly became apparent that Mane’s footwear was not in good condition, but that appealed to the scout.
“They were bad, really bad – torn and old. Then he said, ‘and with those shorts? You don’t even have proper football shorts?”, Mane continued.
“I told him what I came with was the best I had, and I only wanted to play – to show myself. When I got on the pitch, you could see the surprise on his face.”
It was at this point the talent-spotter realised he had seen something special.
“He came to me and said ‘I’m picking you straight away. You’ll play in my team.
“After those trials, I went to the academy.”
Following that meeting, Mane was directed to Generation Foot – Dakar’s main club that has sourced the likes of top African talents such as Diafra Sakho and Papiss Cisse.
But rather surprisingly, first impressions at the Generation Foot were not encouraging, as recalled by veteran scout Abdou Diatta.
“Personally, I didn’t think he’d make it with us because he was too shy. It was as if he didn’t want to play,” said Diatta, as quoted by BeSoccer.
“But when I saw his touch on the ball I said to myself, ‘this guy is really a good player.”
After two days of showing what he could do, Diatta turned to Jules Boucher, a coach at the time, and said: “This one, we’ll take him straight away.”
After signing with Generation Foot, Mane would struggle to settle in at the club due to his reluctance to mingle with his teammates.
Diatta remembers being troubled by Mane’s reluctance to get involved with the team and his preference to train alone.
“I told him that ‘if you continue to be shy like this you risk ending up going back home to Casamance, because football’s like that. You have to be part of the team’”, Diatta said.
The advice was taken on board and after just one week Mane was chatting away to his teammates.
Moving to Europe
His days in the Senegalese top flight were numbered as he was soon on the move to French side Metz in 2011.
But his progression slowed on his arrival in Europe, making just 22 appearances for the Ligue 1 side and scoring three goals.
And after Metz were relegated, Red Bull Salzburg came calling and snapped Mane up for £3.5m – the third biggest transfer fee the French club had ever received.
Mane flourished in the Austrian top flight, scoring 45 goals in 87 games during two seasons with the club.
And unsurprisingly he caught the eye of a number of Premier League clubs.
But it was Southampton and Ronald Koeman who arrived quickest for the forward – and they agreed a £10m deal to bring him to St.Mary’s – alongside Toby Alderweireld.
Mane scored 21 goals in 67 Premier League appearances for Saints after joining and it was his stellar displays for the Saints that caught the eye of Jurgen Klopp, who revealed he had been tracking Mane ‘since his impressive performances in the Olympics in 2012’.
He signed for Liverpool in June 2016 for £34m – a deal which saw him become the most expensive African footballer ever, although that record is now held by Nicolas Pepe.
Anfield move and worldwide name
Mane made an immediate impact at Liverpool, quickly establishing himself as a potent force on the right of Klopp’s front three.
Liverpool qualified for the Champions League and Mane finished just behind Philippe Coutinho at the top of the Reds’ 2016/17 goalscoring charts with 13. He missed the final eight games of the season with injury though.
Mohamed Salah’s arrival in 2017 saw Mane shifted out to the left of the front three. He needed a little time to get to grips with it but the 2017/18 season saw the birth of a formidable three-way partnership between Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino. The trio helped Liverpool exterminate many teams in their path and they reached the Champions League final.
Mane was at his lightning best in their round-of-16 tie at Porto – firing in a hat-trick as Liverpool ran out 5-0 winners in Portugal. He scored in the final against Real Madrid but the Reds were beaten 3-1. However, Mane and Liverpool were only going to get better.
Salah’s spectacular form in 2017/18, which saw him fire in 44 goals in all competitions, meant Mane was somewhat in his teammate’s shadow.
The Egyptian unsurprisingly scooped up all the awards in 2018 including PFA Player of the Year and African Footballer of the Year but by the end of the 2018/19 season, it was Mane getting all the plaudits.
He earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year and as mentioned scooped up the African Footballer of the Year prize in 2019.
But more importantly, the honours for Mane at Liverpool started to come. The Reds won the Champions League last season with an incredible semi-final victory over Barcelona the standout moment of the campaign.
Trophies have come a lot more readily for Liverpool this term. They won the Super Cup, in which Mane scored twice, as well as the Club World Cup.
And now Liverpool are champions of England for the first time in 30 years – Mane a key component towards that success.
And at 27 years old, there’s still so much more to come from the main Mane.
Published at Mon, 29 Jun 2020 08:28:58 +0000