With Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard having already voted him as the best on the planet, new CAF African Player of the Year Sadio Mane is far from short of admirers.
While part of a stellar cast of FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Champions League winning stars with Liverpool, the 27-year-old has joined the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah in earning individual plaudits, too.
The Premier League golden boot winner’s arrival at the pinnacle of African football comes after an incredible and inspiring rise from the streets of Bambali in southern Senegal. He was ten years old when he saw his heroes, the Lions of Teranga, appear at the FIFA World Cup tournament for the first time – but he already had the football bug by then.
“There was big excitement in the country in 2002 during the World Cup, but it was already only football for me before that,” Mane told Goal.com. “When [my family] could see that in my head and my heart there was only football, I started to convince them to let me go to Dakar.”
A decade later he was wearing the national team shirt at the 2012 Olympics, before leading his nation out at their second World Cup in 2018 and the CAF Africa Cup of Nations final in 2019, but it was far from a smooth ascendancy.
A teenage Mane briefly ran away from home to seek his fortune in the capital, while his first major try-out as a 16-year-old threatened to be overshadowed by his lack of kit.
“I did not look like a footballer,” he told France Football. “I was wearing pants that looked nothing like football shorts. And my football boots were completely shredded on the sides and had been repaired by me with wire the best I could.”
Thankfully, his dazzling talent was all the scouts were left remembering, beginning his rise to the top. He was a diamond in the rough with Metz in the French second tier, catching the eye of Red Bull Salzburg. Then, while in Austria, he almost got an early opportunity to link up with Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, but the German coach passed on the chance.
“It was simply a wrong evaluation on my side,” the Liverpool boss admitted. “It is not the only wrong decision I have made, this one I could correct some years later.”
Instead, it was Southampton in England’s top flight where he would find his early spotlight moment. Having scored 15 and created a further nine in 2015/16 – including the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history – Klopp made him his first major signing.
With over 150 appearances and more than 100 combined goals and assists with Liverpool, the pair have not looked back since. Now the Senegalese star looks set to go down in history with one of the most talented Reds teams of all time.
Quickfire Mane stats
64 – Since the start of the 2018/19 season, Mane has scored or assisted 64 goals for club and country.
88 – This season it’s taken Mane on average 88 minutes to score or assist for Liverpool, with his Anfield career averaging just 117 minutes.
22 – Mane’s tally of 22 goals last season in the Premier League was his best-ever tally, seeing him share the golden boot with team-mate Mohamed Salah and fellow African forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal.
What they say of Mane:
Congratulations to Sadio for his trophy well deserved and sorry I couldn’t come but I had to start scoring for the 2020 trophy. See you next year, inch’Allah.
Lionel Messi on voting for Mane as Argentina captain at the Ballon d’Or
It is a shame to see Mane finish in fourth place (at the Ballon d’Or). 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.
Christoph Freund, Red Bull Salzburg sporting director, talking with the Mirror
I found him in Metz in the third division and his development was outstanding. We saw a lot of potential. We saw his movements, his speed, he was so hungry to score goals. When we then met him personally he was really clear and he wanted to make the next step.
Former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher talking on Sky Sports
He was Klopp’s first big signing and he was the one that got Liverpool back into the top four, the next season was the Champions League final and this season is challenging for the title. He is the one that has been there from the very start. – FIFA.com