Photo credit: Harry Langer/DeFodi Images.
The Triumph of Sadio Mané
From humble beginnings in an obscure Senegalese village, the football star defied all odds to reach competitive glory.
When Sadio Mané’s game-winning penalty nestled in the back of the net at the Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon on February 6, 2022, it sparked euphoric celebrations as Senegal was confirmed the champions of African football at the 2021 AFCON. For Mané, it represented a triumph on both a national and personal level.
Winning the competition in 2022 banished the ghost of 2019 — when Senegal lost in an agonizing AFCON final to Algeria. Concurrently, that victory and the circumstance surrounding it meant that Mané had belatedly led his country to their first African Cup of Nations win, earning the admiration of a nation.
Motivation for greatness
From playing football on the streets of Dakar, Mané has risen to be feted as one of the best players of his generation. The journey to being Senegal’s talisman was not without its attendant risks and struggles. Still, it all began in the little-known village of Bambali where he was born in 1992. Born to the family of a local Muslim cleric, Mané had a happy childhood playing football on the dirt fields in his home village while dreaming of a professional career in the sport. His father, however, tried to stop him, forbidding him from playing football as a child.
Unfortunately, Mané’s dad died when he was seven due to the lack of proper healthcare facilities in Bambali, forcing the family to turn to traditional medicine. That incident left a mark on young Mané, strengthening his resolve to make it as a professional footballer and provide his village with humanitarian assistance when he could. At age 15, Mané ran away from home, making the nearly-500 mile journey to Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, to pursue his dreams.
A leg up with Génération Foot
In Dakar, the young star attended a series of trials before signing with the local academy Génération Foot, after scouts spotted him playing in M’Bour. Mané quickly started to make waves at Génération Foot, helping the club win promotion to the Senegalese Ligue 2 in the 2010/2011 season. A move to Europe soon beckoned, with Metz securing the signing of Mané thanks to a partnership with Génération Foot. Playing in the French Ligue 2, Mané distinguished himself with his ball-carrying, poise, and game-changing abilities even if his decision-making was still raw.
At the end of the season, Metz was relegated to the French third tier. Several offers arrived for Mané who went to the 2012 London Olympics with the Senegalese team and attracted more attention for his services. In the end, he joined Austrian giants, Red Bull Salzburg in a €4 million deal. Playing a more prominent role in Austria with more responsibility, Mané started to show signs of the explosiveness and dribbling that would make him a world-class star. In two seasons with Red Bull Salzburg, he scored 45 goals and recorded 32 assists in 87 appearances, paving the way for a move to the English Premier League where he joined Southampton Football Club.
Premier League rookie
Not fazed by the switch from Austria to England, Mané continued to perform at a high level, winning a penalty in a 2-1 win against Arsenal on his debut for Southampton. He would later score against Chelsea and Arsenal during the league campaign. On May 16, 2015, during Southampton’s final home league game of the season against Aston Villa, Mané wrote his name into the history books by scoring the fastest English Premier League hattrick in 2 minutes and 56 seconds beating Robbe Fowler’s record of 4 minutes and 33 seconds held for 21 years.
Overall, his debut campaign in England was a success with 10 goals from 32 appearances. A similar performance in his second season at St. Mary’s Stadium saw Mané finish as the highest goal scorer for Southampton, with 15 goals from 43 appearances.
The price goes up
The consistency of Mané’s performances and his flamboyance soon meant that bigger teams soon came knocking at the door. In the summer of 2016, he swapped the south coast of England for a move to Merseyside where he joined Jürgen Klopp’s revolution at Liverpool. The £34 million that Liverpool paid for him made him the most expensive African player in history at that time and he hit the ground running instantly, scoring the fourth goal in a 4-3 win against Arsenal on his debut.
In six seasons at the Merseyside, Mané contributed countless standout moments to Liverpool. He became a cult hero to the Kop, thanks to his professionalism, passion, and quality that saw him score 120 goals in 269 appearances. Operating primarily on the left of Jürgen Klopp’s attacking trident, he formed a devastating partnership with Roberto Firmino and fellow African, Mohamed Salah. Together, they led Liverpool to its sixth Champions League title in 2018 after losing in the final to Real Madrid in 2017.
The 2019/2020 season would prove to be Mané’s most famous at Liverpool as the team blitzed its way to the league title after a 30-year wait. In January 2020, Mané made some personal history by becoming the first Senegalese player since El Hadji Diouf to win the CAF African Footballer of the Year award despite his national team finishing as runner-up in the 2019 African Cup of Nations.
AFCON 2019 and glory on the pitch
Noticeably eager to make up for the near-miss of the 2019 African Cup of Nations, redemption would come for Mané when his game-winning penalty ensured that Senegal won the competition for the first time. Less than two months after beating Egypt in that final, he would again score the decisive penalty to send Senegal to the 2022 World Cup at the expense of the same opponent, after a 1-1 aggregate draw over the two-legged tie. A hattrick goal scored against Benin Republic in June 2022 made Mané the highest goal scorer in Senegalese football history, surpassing Henri Camara. He also received the CAF African Male Player of The Year award again in 2022 following his exploits at the continental championships.
Following all these exploits with his national team, Mané ended his club football in the 2021/2022 season on a high, winning the League Cup and FA Cup with Liverpool and finishing just one point behind Manchester City in the league. Soon after the season ended, Mané expressed an interest in pursuing a new adventure. He was soon off to join German giants, Bayern Munich, on a three-year deal, bringing an end to a six-year spell with Liverpool that was as fruitful as it was career-defining.
Similarly, he scored a goal on his Bayern Munich debut, helping the club to a 5-3 defeat of RV Leipzig in the 2022 DFL Supercup. Unfortunately, an injury sustained in a league game ruled him out of the 2022 World Cup despite his starring role in securing his country’s place in Qatar. All effort was made to get him ready for the Mundial but on November 17, 2022, he withdrew from the squad to focus on his rehabilitation.
For all the success that Mané has recorded in his career, he has never forgotten his background, regularly paying visits to Bambali to visit his family and kin. He donated 690,000 dollars towards the construction of a hospital in the village, fulfilling the promise he made to himself as a seven-year-old following the passing of his father. In addition, Mané gave £250,000 towards the building of a school in his village, noting that education was critical to helping the next generation of football talents that could come out of Bambali. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was stretching the resources of the health ministry in Senegal, he donated over 50,000 dollars to the national committee on the COVID-19 pandemic to help their efforts.
Characteristically shy and unwilling to draw attention to himself, Sadio Mané rose from a little boy in a village in West Africa to becoming one of the world’s best players, without losing sight of the most important things to him. As a folk hero in Senegal and an inspiration to Africans all over the world, Mané’s legacy is largely sealed and, whatever happens from now till the end of his career, he’ll always be remembered as one of the true greats of the modern era.
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