SADIO Mane is loved by Liverpool fans, by his team-mates and by his manager. Why wouldn’t he be?
I say this because of the idea that is being bandied around right now that he is somehow “underrated”. Who doesn’t rate him? And if it’s someone who doesn’t have anything to do with Liverpool – who cares?
I’m not entirely convinced there has ever been a debate bar a short sticky patch of form.
I’ve heard fellow contributors say it on The Anfield Wrap. I’ve seen Liverpool supporters post it on social media. I’ve also heard it said in person.
Congratulations Sadio Mane, whose strike v Arsenal was last night voted Goal of the Month! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/dmJTmdnGJ2
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) September 12, 2016
But anyone who was at Sadio Mane’s Liverpool debut, away to Arsenal on the opening day of the 2016-17 season, was surely rating what they witnessed.
That day, on a sun-soaked afternoon at The Emirates, Mane instantly extinguished any idea that Liverpool had burnt too much cash by forking out £34 million to seal a deal with Southampton for his services.
They paid that fee because they rated him. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur rated him, too. If you believe the never-ending tabloid tittle-tattle, it seems Real Madrid rate him right now.
Zinedine Zidane has asked the Real Madrid board for Eden Hazard, Sadio Mané, Paul Pogba, Lucas Hernandez, & Mbappe, after his reappointment as manager of Los Blancos. [@EduardoInda] pic.twitter.com/Nq3TKjJkAN
— LFC Transfer Room (@LFCTransferRoom) March 12, 2019
Mane arrived, though, having scored 21 goals in 67 Premier League appearances for The Saints. There was talk then of him blowing hot and cold. There had been issues over his time-keeping, too.
And the then Southampton boss Ronald Koeman had said: “Sadio is a little bit unpredictable sometimes. He’s still a young player, and young players they need sometimes to be more consistent.”
The Senegal star, now 26, has 19 goals for the season and has netted 10 times in his last 10 outings for The Reds. He’s only one goal behind Mohamed Salah and for Premier League goals, just two behind the top scorer Sergio Aguero.
When a player is enjoying his best goalscoring return in his five seasons in English football it’s safe to assume the consistency question is no longer an issue.
But it’s hardly a new thing. Back to that Arsenal game at the very start of his Liverpool adventure, fans filed out of the ground that day whispering about John Barnes, such was the quality of Mane’s display – and his goal – in that game.
Since then, there have been plenty more moments for the highlights reel. Sinking Everton at Goodison Park in the 94th minute very much among them.
Home goals the season…
– Sadio Mane: 12
— The Sportsman Stats (@SportsmanStats) March 10, 2019
It’s 52 goals in 110 games for Liverpool now. So, again, who’s not rating that output? The facts speak for themselves.
And if anyone was someway, somehow, unaware of his ability, they surely are now after the latest, and perhaps best, of his Liverpool goals.
There are goals. And then there are goals. And Mane’s goal in the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night was iconic – surely one of the great Liverpool goals in Europe. The bedlam that followed in the away end said it all; this was the type of strike that has you screaming in the face of strangers, falling over seats and celebrating over and over again as the sheer audacity of it hits home.
As if chipping Ben Foster with a back-heel wasn’t enough for one season, Mane decided he wanted something even more outrageous. And in Germany he provided it. It was only three touches. But what a three touches they were.
— AK (@david_jr47) March 14, 2019
The first is sublime control, a touch that even if it was a little off would have seen the opportunity created by Virgil van Dijk’s raking ball disappear. The second was a turn that left Manuel Neur, one of the world’s very best goalkeepers, running into an empty space wondering quite what he was up to. And then the finish. Pinpoint, precise, and so delicately delivered. It took an age to hit the net. And that made it even more beautiful.
“I’m going to have to watch back 500 times. It’s astounding what he did,” said Jurgen Klopp.
He’s not the only man who has been watching it on a loop ever since.
Mane’s second goal on the night, a header that finished off a sublime ball from Mo Salah, made it seven away goals in the Champions League for Liverpool; more than any other player in the club’s history.
He’s a man for big games, a man who can be relied on, and currently the star of the Liverpool team.
Klopp, like many managers, often shies away from public praise for individual players. When you have the egos of 20-plus professionals to deal with, he emphasis on team over star is an understandable tactic.
Sometimes, though, moments dictate it. Mane’s magnificent first in Munich was one of those.
— Unibet (@unibet) March 10, 2019
Asked about Mane's impact since the turn of the year, Klopp said: “It’s so obvious that I don’t have to speak about it. He knows it, everybody knows it. I don’t want to speak about it really.
“It’s so important that these boys stay fit. Remind me after the season and I will sing my own song about Sadio Mane if you like. He’s a really good footballer and long may it continue!”
To quote a Shankly-ism: “A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”
Right now, Mane is playing a tune no-one can ignore.