Richard Jolly: Despite often finishing second behind Mo Salah, Sadio Mane leaves Liverpool as modern-day great

When Sadio Mane said this, his eyes lit up. He will reveal more about his future, he said, after the Champions League final and the way his 2022 was going, it is understandable if he imagined his departure in the fire of glory. able to announce. He had already scored the winning penalty in the African Cup of Nations and a spot kick to send Senegal into the World Cup and, if he missed by 12 yards to win the FA Cup, Liverpool picked up anyway, Along with the Carabao Cup.

Anne had felt the form of her life. He seemed to be in that happy place where a footballer has reached such a level that self-confidence doesn’t sound like arrogance and he deferred himself to the Ballon d’Or. He may only need one more decisive performance on the big stage to script his ideal goodbye. Maybe he was inches – and a motivated goalkeeper – from giving it up. A combination from inside Thibaut Courtois and Post denied them an opening goal in the Champions League final. There was to be no ceremony announcing the farewell buffs, no on-pitch interviews. Instead, news surfaced the next day that, six years later, Mane was giving time to his Enfield career. Liverpool’s first great Jurgen Klopp signing will not be part of Klopp’s other side at Merseyside.

Still, despite a rare sense of disapproval from one of the definitive players of their modern-day golden age, it could have been a largely acrimony-free exit, despite Bayern Munich’s efforts to demean Liverpool. In part, this reflects a gratitude for talent and financial reality, it may be better to receive the fee now than next summer. But a fan base both excited and excited by the arrival of Darwin Nunez may see a replacement as a testament to the pulling power provided by Mane. While Senegal revealed he was close to joining Manchester United before Klopp’s intervention in 2016, it was a more straightforward option for him to move to Uruguay six years later. Mane joined a Liverpool side that finished eighth and left one that was arguably Europe’s most compelling team.

Mane had the shortest margin to book his Liverpool career with high-class goals in key matches. His debut at Arsenal was marked by a high-speed dart with his left foot and an unmatched finish. The ability to score against the elite in Southampton was evident. It was drawn to Liverpool. In a span of four weeks in his last season, he scored three goals against Manchester City, two against Villarreal, the other against Benfica and United. He was the first Liverpool player in 11 years to score in the Champions League final; He has four more goals in the semi-finals of the Champions League. One of his best strikes came against Bayern in 2019, which may have piqued his interest. It demonstrated both running speed, but finishing skills behind a defense.

That pace made him a suitable leader but if he sometimes seemed quicker than everyone else, it was not just the foot, but the footwork and thought. Some of Mane’s best goals, whether on the backheel against Watford or the stooping header at Aston Villa or the overhead kick against Norwich, were the product of inspired improvisation. His explosiveness wasn’t limited to running: He could rifle a shot into the top corner with any foot.

Mane was tempted to watch the athlete, not the thinker, but his skill in the channels required finesse. His ability to adapt to the role of Roberto Firmino as a deep-lying striker revealed another aspect of his game. No one else excelled in Klopp’s typical system in all three forward positions. Rewind to that first goal at Arsenal and it’s a reminder of Mane’s first season as a right winger. He spent most of the subsequent five years on the left.

Revisiting Klopp’s admiration for him in recent months—”a machine,” “a warrior,” “absolutely insane,”—comes in reference to his ability to publicize fringe figures as well as likely that it was an attempt at persuasion. Yet most of his comments come under scrutiny. Mane seemed a modern phenomenon. Buying him at 24 and selling him at 30, Liverpool may have had their peak years, but Klopp – perhaps in another attempt to change his mind – said in February that his best was yet to come and that there was no sign of physical deterioration. There is no evidence. By his own admission, Mane had the worst season of his career in 2020-21; His longest Liverpool goal drought was at the end of 2021. Yet he made a spectacular comeback in 2022.

And there is a feeling that Mane’s goals may matter more, and not just because of the opposition (his five favorite sides to face are – at least statistically – the three being City, Arsenal and Chelsea). His return of 120 goals for Liverpool put him ahead of another iconic left-wing winger in John Barnes, and in Kevin Keegan and Ian St John, in better proportions, feared to outdo previous generations. The average of 20 in the season is more remarkable when it is considered that there were no penalties: in fact, only Les Ferdinand has more Premier League goals without converting than 12 yards. It was a way in which Mohamed Salah overcame and outperformed him. He often seemed to second the bill.

Perhaps being replaced by Salah prompted Mane to move on. Still he set the tone. Unsurprisingly, Steven Kolker was Klopp’s first signing for Liverpool. Mane was a leader in other respects: the first for a large fee nevertheless set the bargaining trend, reflecting the German’s ability to identify players designed for his style of football. Klopp built up from the front, making Liverpool quicker and more prolific before they really won anything.

He finished Mane’s first season unbeaten against a top six, his fearlessness being a factor in showing that he could beat the best before becoming champions of Europe or England. The embodiment of his ability to blow anyone away, he changed the trajectory and strategy of a team. The narrow front three worked with him; Partly because of him. Perhaps, as with many excellent klopp players, there is a question of how good he is when it comes to systems and sidekicks. Mane and Bayern are about to find out.