In some ways, it’s fitting that Sadio Mane is moving to Munich.
For a number of Liverpool players, one of their best memories of the Senegal superstar came in Bavaria – long before his mesmerising display at the Allianz Arena in a Champions League last-16 victory in March 2019.
Back in the summer of 2017, just after Mohamed Salah had become Liverpool’s record signing, Jurgen Klopp’s squad had been invited by Munich to contest the Audi Cup, a traditional warm up tournament, along with Napoli and Atletico Madrid.
Sadio Mane’s explosive pace and finishing ability was on display at Liverpool as they beat Bayern Munich 3-0 in the pre-season Audi Cup in 2017
Mane was under pressure to deliver right away after Liverpool paid £31million back in 2016
There was plenty of intrigue amongst the group over how Salah would adapt and he looked very sharp on the pitches at their base in Lake Tegernsee.
The day Mane returned to full training, however, having missed the end of the previous season with a knee injury is vivid.
He was fast, dynamic and lethal. His running was aggressive, his desire to score goals unquestionable.
There were telling looks all-around at the end of this particular session and the following day, he showed what was to come when scoring the opener against Bayern then assisting the second in a 3-0 win.
It is always the most reliable guide, the appraisal from the dressing room. Players can’t fool each other, given how much time they spend together, and that means whenever they are prepared to speak so effusively about a colleague, you know it comes from a genuine place.
Mane formed a formidable partnership with Mohamed Salah (right) despite initial scepticism
Mane helped Liverpool lift the Champions League in 2019, when they beat Tottenham 2-0
And whenever you spoke to any of Liverpool’s players about Mane, there was undisguised admiration.
He was the man for the big occasion, someone they knew who would be there fighting and scrapping from the front to make things happen.
Mane’s performances were also pivotal as Liverpool ended their 30-year wait to win the league in 2019-20
Perhaps it’s easy to forget the pressure that was on Mane when he first arrived at Liverpool six years ago.
The club’s recent history of big signings was chequered at best and the £31million they gave to Southampton was greeted with scepticism initially.
Liverpool didn’t have the space to keep making mistakes in the transfer window and who knows how things would have turned out for them had Mane underwhelmed and they had failed to qualify for the Champions League in Klopp’s first full season.
It’s why he was the most important piece of business ever conducted under Klopp.
You can talk about Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho, Alisson Becker and the shrewdness of securing Andrew Robertson, but Mane was the one that simply had to work. How it worked.
There were 120 goals across those six campaigns in 269 games in all competitions, with a further 38 assists. The total puts him ahead of figures such as the late Ian St John, John Barnes and Kevin Keegan in Liverpool’s all-time list. It’s why the tag ‘legend’ rests comfortably on his shoulders.
‘His performances are always incredible,’ Jordan Henderson said towards the end of the last campaign.
‘The amount of work he does for the team off the ball as well, defending there at the end, winning the ball back high up.
Mane was in rampant form as Liverpool crushed Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final
Liverpool would go on to win the FA Cup, having claimed the Carabao Cup earlier in the year
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will certainly miss Mane but his team continues to evolve
‘Then his quality in and around the box, you see with way he can finish with headers– it’s all that gym [he does], the neck muscles to generate the power. He’s just a top player and a great lad.’
Some men can leave clubs at which they have thrived under a cloud but Mane’s move to Bayern has been met with a wave of sadness, nostalgia and appreciation by Liverpool fans, who are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking out his best moments.
The way he trampled over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final is still fresh in most minds but there are so many others in contention, such as a header at Villa Park in November 2019 that put Liverpool on course for the Premier League and a last-minute winner against Everton in December 2016.
Mane scores against his new club Bayern Munich in the 2018-19 Champions League last 16
Mane won the Premier League Golden Boot award in 2018-19 after scoring 22 times
He won six major trophies, collected the Golden Boot and also has a piece of Premier League history that is unlikely to ever be beaten – the quickest hat-trick, scored for Southampton against Villa in two minutes 56 seconds in May 2015.
Munich may have paid more than they wanted but one thing they cannot dispute is the quality they are getting. A new era is dawning for Liverpool, with Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz providing the foil for Salah, but it will still take some time to forget the past.
Mane, you see, was the kind of man who had the capacity to regularly do the unforgettable. That scintillating day in Lake Tegernsee is a case in point.