The first time I saw Sadio Mane was during one of the proudest days of my career. At the 2012 Olympic Games, I was part of Great Britain’s football team and we played Senegal in our opening group game.
Mane was at Metz 10 years ago. He was fresh to International football, a little erratic and still had much to learn – but you could see he was a talent. As a squad, we assumed we’d take care of Senegal that day at Old Trafford but the way he played – full of aggression and energy – embodied his team as a whole.
I came away from the stadium believing I’d seen young forward with a bright future, an opinion I also held about Idrissa Gana Gueye, who was a tiger in midfield. They were two standouts, helping Senegal secure a deserved 1-1 draw, and I felt if they got an opportunity at the right club, they would go far.
Sadio Mane showed his class in Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City
The last time I saw Sadio Mane was seven days ago at Wembley Stadium. I was working pitch side for the BBC, for one of the most eagerly-awaited fixtures of the season: Liverpool versus Manchester City, in the FA Cup semi-final.
Mane was wearing a red shirt with number 10 on his back. He gave City’s defenders all manner of problems and everyone could see he was a world class talent at the top of his game. His two goals – both outstanding in different ways – embodied his team as a whole.
I came away from the stadium with my mind made up: If I had a vote in the PFA Player of the Year awards, I would cast mine for Mane. I don’t know why it is but I’m still not totally sure that it gets recognised just how good this guy actually is.
Let’s frame it this way: his assist for Mohamed Salah’s first goal in Tuesday’s 4-0 drubbing of Manchester United – if Dennis Bergkamp had produced a pass like that during his career, we’d still be seeing clips of it now, several days after. It was absolutely outstanding!
If I had a vote in this season’s PFA Player of the Year awards I would vote for the Reds winger
His pass to Mohamed Salah in Liverpool’s win over Man United was absolutely outstanding
To be able to control a spinning ball and clip it in, first time around the corner, was breath-taking. Of course, so much happened during that game to discuss but Mane’s fingerprints were all over the victory. It was fitting that he scored the third goal, to truly take the game away from United.
That’s what Mane is all about: being there to influence games. During the six years he has been at Liverpool, he’s had 153 goal involvements (scored 116, assisted 37) and that is second only to Mohamed Salah, who has 210.
What a signing he has been. Manchester United and Tottenham both had a go at signing him from Southampton, where he spent a couple of seasons, but Jurgen Klopp knew what he wanted and how his team could play. The belief was that Mane could become something special.
He’s definitely done that. Salah, understandably, gets the headlines and I suspect he will be many people’s idea of the season’s top performer and is understandably favourite to get the award, for what would be his second time, but Mane shades it, as far as I am concerned, when you look at the bigger picture.
Salah understandably gets the headlines, but Mane doesn’t let the lack of attention get to him
Whilst contribution on the International stage isn’t supposed to be a factor when considering who to vote for in the PFA award, you can’t help but admire how, in 2022 alone, Mane took the responsibility to successfully take the final penalty for his country in the African Cup of Nations final shoot-out against Egypt and he carried his country’s hopes on his shoulders soon after once again, when leading Senegal past Egypt and into the World Cup finals.
Such enormous occasions could drain a player but Mane has returned to Liverpool at the most demanding part of the campaign and taken his levels up once more, which I saw at close quarters against City at Wembley.
People talk about work rate in football and make it sound as if running a lot makes you a good player. It’s nonsense. If you don’t run in the right areas, you are just wasting energy but I was in awe watching what Mane did at Wembley.
Every sprint had a purpose and intention, all the work was done to benefit his team. The joy he took from his first goal, when closing down Zak Steffen and pouncing on him, was understandable because he applied his intelligence to the situation.
What I love about Mane, too, is the fact he seems so relaxed. Playing alongside someone like Mo – who I absolutely love – could be a challenge, given he gets talked about so much and attracts such focus. Someone with an ego, producing the numbers Mane does, could ask: ‘what about me?’
He was also the hero for his country in the Africa Cup of Nations final and World Cup qualifying
Mane took the responsibility on his shoulders in both competitions for Senegal this year
But the forward didn’t let this drain him when he returned for club duties with Liverpool
But he doesn’t and you can see why his team-mates love him. Liverpool are blessed to have them both and it wouldn’t surprise me if he and Salah dominate the vote for the PFA and FWA awards. Who else is going to challenge them?
Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and the outstanding Joao Cancelo would be Manchester City’s candidates; Mason Mount and Antonio Rudiger have had good seasons for Chelsea but I don’t believe that any of them can match the achievements of Salah and Mane.
Liverpool have polished the rough diamond I saw 10 years ago and produced a gem. He will be entering the final 12 months of his contract soon but I believe it will get sorted. Players of his ability and versatility don’t come around all the time. When you get them, you do everything to not let them go.