“I have made a few mistakes in my life and one of my biggest mistakes ever was not taking Sadio when I was at Dortmund,” Jurgen Klopp revealed before Liverpool's clash against Red Bull Salzburg in 2019. It’s heartening to hear a man who fractured Bayern Munich’s hegemony in the Bundesliga talk about regrets. With two Bundesliga titles, one DFB Pokal and two DFL Super Cups (with a trip to an all-German Champions League final in 2013), Klopp’s time in Germany’s top flight served to enhance his reputation as a world-class manager. Whatever regrets he had in Germany, though, were quickly dispelled when he chose the red half of Merseyside as his next home.
July 2016, £34 million splashed out, Sadio Mane wears the iconic red shirt as he is unveiled as a Liverpool player. Twitter was abuzz with a mixed bag of reactions as a section of Liverpool supporters believed the club had overpaid Southampton as Mane walked the well-trodden path of leaving St Mary’s for Anfield.
A year earlier, Jurgen Klopp himself signed for Liverpool. Proclaiming himself as “The Normal One” with that toothy grin, Klopp vowed to turn the doubters into believers and strongly believed Liverpool would add a major trophy to their decorated history within four years.
The perfect image doesn’t exi..— Liverpool FC (Premier League Champions 🏆) (@LFC) July 22, 2020
Never mind. pic.twitter.com/jFXmquwgV6
Cut to July 2020, Jurgen Klopp, Sadio Mane and the rest of the Liverpool squad grace the podium at the Kop End, fireworks in the background paying ode to the “champions of everything”. In a season like no other, Liverpool romped to the quickest Premier League title triumph, blazing through the opposition like a forest fire. Sadio Mane stands with Jurgen Klopp as the holders of the Premier League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and the Champions League.
Speaking to Star Sports after lifting the title to a Super Bowl-like presentation at Anfield, Senegal’s diamond, Sadio Mane, reflects on the journey to the top. “Well, it’s a big pleasure and a big honour for me and my team-mates for sure. All the good support from around the world, specially from India as well. I think the wait has been so long, 30 years and finally, we did it, so yeah, really happy.”
From reluctantly being the greatest runners-up in English football to finally deposing Pep Guardiola’s expensively assembled Man City side, Mane looks back with pure delight at a season that has seen Liverpool finally crowned champions of England. “Honestly, it was a really tough season for us, my team-mates and the fans as well because the beginning was not easy, too many contenders – Man City, Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal. If I were to choose my favourite moment, it was when we opened up the gap over Man City. I think everybody could breathe at that time.”
2️⃣5️⃣0️⃣ combined goals in all competitions under Jürgen Klopp!— Liverpool FC (Premier League Champions 🏆) (@LFC) July 8, 2020
9️⃣4️⃣ Salah 👑
7️⃣9️⃣ Mane ⚡️
7️⃣7️⃣ Firmino 😎 pic.twitter.com/oQ9nIwPY2e
Central to overcoming the most heroic of failures last season were Liverpool’s pyrotechnical front three. The Salah-Mane-Firmino trident has stormed past opposition for the last three seasons. This season, Salah (19), Mane (17) and Firmino (9) may not have reached the lofty heights of the Golden Boot charge last year, but the number requires some context. A total of 16 different players have found the net for Liverpool this season (with only Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren missing the mark) – the most in the Premier League.
Mane has nothing but praise for his all-star attacking compatriots. “I think they are great players – best players in the world. Mo Salah and Firmino make it easy to play alongside them. We love playing with each other and try to help each other. We speak the same language on the pitch, which makes it easier.”
So, what does the 2019 African Footballer of the Year have his sights set on for the future? More titles? Individual accolades? The whole shebang? “I always say that in life, you always have to be a challenger and for sure, football is all about being hungry in a good way – to like to win. We won the Premier League and we would like to win it again and for sure, Champions League as well. We'll see what’s going to happen for the Ballon d’Or but my dream is to win the Ballon d’Or and I would love to do it one day.”
The smart money would not be against Mane being a favourite for a Ballon d’Or. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the twilight of their careers, at 28, Sadio Mane still has years left at the top. The Senegalese winger came fourth in the Ballon d’Or list in 2019 after scoring 28 goals in 45 games for Liverpool in all competitions. This, after finishing a runner-up with Senegal in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Even eventual winner Lionel Messi was surprised Mane finished fourth in the Ballon d’Or race. "It’s a shame to see Mane finish in fourth place. Mane achieved a great year that was exceptional for the entire Liverpool team. That's why I chose him,” Messi said after picking up the prestigious accolade.
Since escaping his village in Bambali under the cover of darkness at 6 am to pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer, Sadio Mane has rarely looked back. The Athletic’s Oliver Kay described Bambali as “the back of beyond”, illustrating just how far Senegal’s main man has come. A supremely inspirational story that serves as a testament to the hard work and graft he has put in; Mane has some advice for young players with the twinkle of the footballing dream in their eyes.
“I want to tell a young player, dreaming is always allowed. You will always have bad moments, but you will always need to be positive and never stop believing. Never stop working hard and go for it.”
As part of a Liverpool side known for their idiosyncratic, lightning-quick football, the journey of the speedster from Senegal is far from over. The sight of Mane jagging in from the left with stormcloud menace is one the Kop will be raring to see once they’re back in the stadiums. Made in Senegal, shining bright in England, for Sadio Mane, the dream continues.