By Jay Pearson – @JimmyCully
When Sadio Mané signed for Liverpool in 2016, there were many eyebrows raised for a few reasons.
The Senegalese forward was courted by a few clubs, but it had looked like Manchester United were the favourites to secure his signature after impressing at Southampton.
Instead, Michael Edwards pulled off a masterclass and signed Mané from the Saints for £30million – a fee that many people questioned.
Mané became Jurgen Klopp’s first major addition to his Liverpool team.The German was ecstatic to finally get his man after he had previously tried to sign him while in charge at Borussia Dortmund.
At Southampton, he was played mostly as a winger. Mané had scored 25 goals in 75 appearances at St Mary’s – including two during THAT victory against Liverpool – but that didn’t seem to be enough to win fans over at the time.
But it didn’t take long for the Senegalese to silence the doubters after he scored arguably one of the goals of the season on his Premier League debut for the Reds.
Cutting inside from the right wing, he weaved around the Arsenal defence like they weren’t there and played a sublime finish into the top corner. Our new No.19 was off the mark for Liverpool and the celebrations were just as important as the goal itself. Mané raced over to celebrate with Klopp in an act of appreciation for making the move to Liverpool a possibility.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mané went on to become Liverpool’s Player of the Year that season and has gone on to form part of the most feared front three in world football.
The relationship they have is incredible, but sometimes it almost feels like they are individuals in a team. All three have their moments of brilliance and it is rare to see that in modern football. Usually someone is taking centre stage.
After his goal against his former club at the weekend, the 27-year-old has netted 62 goals in 125 appearances for the Reds, with 46 of those coming in the Premier League.
Last season was one that we will all remember fondly. But Sadio appears to be transcending his role. No longer is he just a cog in the Liverpool attacking machine, but arguably the team’s most valuable and important player. He has been the catalyst for progression on Merseyside.
With 22 league goals to his name in 2018/19, Mané won the Premier League Golden Boot along with Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In the Champions League, his clever goal against Bayern Munich set Liverpool on their way to gaining the momentum needed to finish strongly in the Europe after a stuttering start in the group stages.
You could say he was in Salah’s shadow prior to that, even though his contributions were, at times, just as vital as those of the Egyptian.
But last season he was on another level. His goals were so important and he produced in the big moments. What became more apparent of the man, was when he led the line in the ‘Miracle of Anfield’ and provided the ‘instinct’ or ‘pass’ – depending on what you want to believe – that led to Liverpool’s penalty in the opening seconds of that special night in Madrid.
The pressure on his shoulders during the semi-final second leg at Anfield was tremendous due to the absence of Salah and Roberto Firmino. But as we all saw from his performance, it showed just the type of character he is. He plays for this club with everything he has.
The signing of Sadio Mané also stopped Reds fans from questioning transfer fees. His price tag was a topic of discussion at the time but, right now, £30m is daylight robbery for the player he has become at Liverpool.
It is other teams’ fans that question transfer fees now.
Edwards and Klopp are extremely intuitive and smart when it comes to Liverpool’s transfer business. No-one questioned either of them when Liverpool paid £75m for Virgil van Dijk. Twitter did not have a melt-down for £67m on Alisson. Words were not said when Salah was signed for £37m.
Instead, it was: “We trust in Klopp, he knows what he’s doing,” and: “Edwards is a genius”.
We have Sadio Mané to thank for all this. His performances since he signed have signalled the end of questions over fees paid by Liverpool Football Club.
Mané plays the game the only way he knows – with a beaming smile on his face. His assists go unnoticed, but he’s notched 22 during his time at Anfield. More importantly, his game intelligence during passages of play is up there with the best in the world.
His performances have already rewarded him with a Premier League Golden Boot accolade, a Champions League winner’s medal and a Ballon d’Or nomination – which he thoroughly deserves.
As we look at the start of this season, he has three goals and an assist to his name already, Mané is showing no signs of any fatigue from a busy 12 months of football. A man-of-the-match display in Istanbul gave him and his teammates their first medal of the season.
If this is how our No.10 is starting this new campaign, then he will be the man every opposing team will fear the most when they step out onto the pitch. There is be no reason why Mané and the rest of this incredible team cannot add to that already growing collection of gold.