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Sadio Mane’s journey from Africa to Liverpool and Ballon d’Or nomination

Jake Jackman




Sadio Mane has had a fascinating journey to the top of European football. The Liverpool forward was one of 30 players nominated for the 2017 Ballon d’Or award earlier this week and it represents another landmark in his progression. There are many that feel he is undeserving of the nomination as he has been included in the list ahead of Alexis Sanchez among others, but he has had a great year for his club especially, helping them to qualify for the Champions League once again.

He is one of only two African players to be on the shortlist, alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and that consolidates his position as one of the best from the continent. During the African Cup of Nations, he managed to score twice and played a prominent role as the side got to the quarter-final stage. It was a disappointment to go out at that point in the competition and they did so on a penalty shoot-out. Mane missed the crucial spot-kick.

There have been better players to have missed a penalty in the history of football and Mane didn’t let that define his year. He returned to Anfield and helped the side return to form in the Premier League, which consolidated their position in the top four. The 26-year-old scored the two goals that earned the three points against Tottenham, before adding strikes against Arsenal and Everton. The former Southampton player regularly turns up in the big matches and that is another reason why he is on the shortlist for the award.

During his first season with Liverpool, Mane contributed 13 goals and five assists in the Premier League, which is a superb return given the initial scepticism regarding his signature. The style of play that Jurgen Klopp promotes suits the Senegal international and his game is developing quickly as a result. At the time, he was signed from Southampton, it would have been ludicrous to suggest he was capable of earning a nomination for the Ballon d’Or as early as 2017, but he has managed just that.

His journey to Liverpool

It can be difficult to break out into European football from Africa and it takes a great deal of luck, not only to be spotted but to be given the opportunity to make the journey. He grew up on the streets of Sedhiou and at the age of 15, he made the long trip to Dakar in the hope of progressing in his chosen career of football. It was a huge risk and not an easily accessible one, but Mane gambled on his talent and that turned out to be a great decision.

His story is another rags-to-riches, as he turned up to the trial in Dakar with old, torn up boots and regular shorts. This surprised one of the coaches, who looked at the 15-year-old like he was out of place. Mane recalled the story to Goal:

“I told him what I came with was the best I had, and I only wanted to play – to show myself. When I got on the pitch, you could see the surprise on his face. 

“He came to me and said ‘I’m picking you straight away. You’ll play in my team.’ After those trials, I went to the academy.”

The academy in question was Generation Foot, which also helped Diafra Sakho and Papiss Cisse make the switch to European football. His family were initially against his decision to move to Dakar and attempt to forge a career in football, but they were swayed by his passion and determination to succeed in his dream.

Generation Foot have a deal in place which allows one young player to move to France each year with Metz. Papiss Cisse benefitted from this and Mane followed in his footsteps at the age of 18. It was the breakthrough that he needed to get his foot in thedoor in Europe. He hasn’t looked back since.

The speedster’s time in France was short, but he did enough to earn a place in the Senegal squad for the 2012 Olympics and his performances in that competition convinced Red Bull Salzburg to make a move for him. The transfer fee was believed to be €4 million and it was the third biggest fee that Metz has ever received. Red Bull have been criticised for a lot since their decision to move into football, but their clubs are excellent at developing young players. Mane is one of their notable success stories.

It was during his time at Salzburg that he worked under Roger Schmidt, who he has since praised as one of the biggest influences in his career. He is a coach that shares similar qualities with Jurgen Klopp in terms of pressing from the front and the period Mane spent there has helped prepare him to be a success at Liverpool.

“He was a big influence on my career thanks to the way he believed in me and helped me so much.

“I was still young when I went to Salzburg and working under him really helped me to grow up and grow up as a player. I learned about tactics and different ways to play the game.”

Mane was only with Salzburg for two full seasons, but it was a key period of his development and helped shape him into the player that we see today at Liverpool. During the 2014 transfer window, he was signed by Southampton and became the most expensive player from Senegal. The fee was £11.8 million, which was later eclipsed when he joined the Reds for an eye-watering £34 million.

There were many that doubted the transfer to Anfield, but he has scored double figures in his last five league campaigns, including three successive in the Premier League. Mane is a goal-scorer and a constant threat in the final third.

Mady Touré is the man responsible for establishing the Generation Foot academy after injuries ended his promising football career. After Mane’s great start to life in England, his mentor told The Guardian:

“Of course I am very proud of Sadio. But he is not my player. He’s my son. I’ve known him since he was a kid so to see him doing so well is fantastic. Today we talk about Messi and Neymar but honestly I don’t think these players are as good as Sadio Mané.”

At the time, many believed Touré was looking at the player with a heavy degree of bias. He had started well for Southampton, but it was ridiculous to make the comparisons to Lionel Messi and Neymar, two of the best players in the world. There is some element to that in his statement, but it is difficult not to see Mane as one of the best players Africa has produced in recent times. Although it wasn’t a straightforward journey to the top, he is now there and will be keen to continue pushing on to bigger and better things.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.


Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke



On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Virgil Van Dijk plays pantomime villain but oozes class on his Southampton return

Martyn Cooke



Virgil Van Dijk
Photo: Reuters

It is fair to say that Virgil Van Dijk was certainly not the most popular figure inside St Mary’s last Sunday afternoon.

The Dutch central defender made his first return to Southampton since joining Liverpool for £75 million in early January and he was subjected to a continuous chorus of boos, jeers and mixture of colourful language from the home supporters, who certainly did not hide the ill-feeling that they feel towards their former star.

However, the reaction from the crowd appeared to have little impact on the 26-year-old who, in actual fact, looked to be enjoying his role as the designated pantomime villain for the day.

He spent much of the afternoon with a smile across his face, although admittedly there was plenty to enjoy within the game for anyone connected with Liverpool.

Van Dijk produced his most dominant and imposing performance of the season against Southampton on Sunday and he was the model of composure and control at the heart of a defence that has looked increasingly frail and fragile at times this campaign.

The Dutchman was near faultless and looked every inch the world’s most expensive defender.

That 26-year-old has experiencing something of a topsy-turvy start to his career at Anfield and his return to form on Sunday will have come as a relief for player, manager and club.

The defender scored on his debut in the Merseyside derby but was then part of the team that lost consecutive games against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion.

He was then the centre of attention last week when he conceded a somewhat controversial last-minute penalty against Tottenham Hotspur.

However, he was in cruise control on Sunday against a Southampton team that struggled to make any clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.

Van Dijk was unaffected by a hostile St Mary’s crowd who certainly showed no signs of forgiving either the Dutchman or Liverpool for the controversy that surrounded his on-off transfer sage for almost half a year.

The ill-feeling stemmed from the summer when Southampton reported Liverpool to the Premier League for making an alleged illegal approach for their star defender.

Liverpool issued a public apology and ‘withdrew’ their interest in the player only for Van Dijk to subsequently hand in a transfer request, which the Saints refused.

The 26-year-old did eventually get his move to Anfield, although he had to wait until January, and the £75 million fee sparked plenty of discussion and debate.

However, now five games into his Liverpool career, Sunday’s performance would suggest that Van Dijk has now settled into life at his new club and it will be intriguing to see what impact he has on the team over the remainder of the season.

Under the management of Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool are undoubtedly entertaining to watch.

The team attack with pace, energy and dynamism and the forward trident of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have proven to be devastatingly effective so far this campaign.

However, much of the progress that has been made in recent years has been undermined somewhat by the defensive fragility in the side that always leaves the team likely to concede goals.

Whether the arrival of Van Dijk will correct all of Liverpool’s defensive frailties is yet to be seen. He is, after all, just one new addition to a defensive unit that still has obvious weaknesses.

However, his performance on Sunday is a sign that he will have a positive impact on the team and may be part of a wider solution.

Ironically, the boos, jeers and colourful language that was directed towards Van Dijk by Southampton supporters were being thrown towards a different figure by the end of the contest – that of their beleaguered manager Mauricio Pellegrino.

Van Dijk may have been the pantomime villain on Sunday in the eyes of the home supporters, but for Liverpool supporters he will be the hero if he can help the club to secure silverware by the end of the campaign.

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Champions League

Porto 0-5 Liverpool: Three talking points from Estádio do Dragão

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Estádio do Dragão, as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool dismantled Champions League opponents Porto.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Sadio Mane plundered a hat-trick as Liverpool produced a five-star performance to thrash Porto and virtually seal their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Mane opened the scoring on 25 minutes before adding two more in the second half which, coupled with goals from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, made it a hideously one-sided affair at the Estádio do Dragão.

Porto offered precious little resistance during the 90 minutes and were completely outclassed by a Liverpool side bursting with confidence.

The return leg at Anfield in three weeks’ time will be nothing more than a formality to confirm the Reds’ place in the last eight.

Here are three talking points, as Jurgen Klopp’s men sounded a warning to the European elite…

Mane emerges from the shadows of Salah and Firmino

Liverpool’s ‘Fab Four’ has been a member short since Philippe Coutinho’s big-money switch to Barcelona in January.

But there has been no sign that the Reds’ form is suffering as a result. If anything, they look stronger by the game.

By his own high standards, Mane has had a relatively quiet campaign thus far and been overshadowed somewhat by the exploits of Salah and Firmino, both of whom were also on the scoresheet against Porto.

But the Senegalese forward returned to his dazzling best on the European stage to help Liverpool take total control of this last 16 tie.

Although he had a helping hand from the Porto keeper for his first goal, which really should have been stopped, Mane took his next two with great precision to round off a sensational evening for the visitors.

Klopp will be delighted that the former Southampton man proved to be so influential in arguably their most important game of the season.

Free-scoring Liverpool will take some stopping

It is not just Liverpool’s performances in the Champions League that have drawn widespread praise, but the amount of goals they have scored in the process.

No club have netted more than the Reds, with the five they bagged in their first knockout fixture since 2009 leapfrogging them above French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

It is now 28 goals in total for Klopp’s free-scoring charges, whose attacking weaponry proved too hot to handle for their Portuguese opponents.

As they showed against Sevilla in the group stage, Liverpool’s defensive frailties can sometimes undermine them.

And when, as expected, they line-up in the quarter-finals, they are likely to face a side with much more to offer in attack than Porto did.

However, new signing Virgil van Dijk, who made his Champions League debut for the Reds, should bring stability and leadership to the back line.

On this evidence, they look like viable contenders for the main prize.

Klopp’s reign is delivering the goods

When Klopp joined Liverpool in the autumn of 2015, many Liverpool supporters believed he would bring them immediate success.

The gregarious German is still yet to win silverware at Anfield, but there is no denying the club are taking significant strides forward under his management this season.

Some of the money they received from Barcelona for Coutinho has already been reinvested into the squad and more high-profile arrivals are likely to follow in future transfer windows.

Liverpool remain prone to suffering off-days against lesser opposition, perhaps more so than any of their main domestic rivals, but they possess the armoury to blow away teams of the highest quality.

Even Manchester City, the runaway Premier League leaders, recently succumbed to the Reds’ attacking might.

As always, the proof will come at the end of the season.

But under Klopp, Liverpool are playing an attractive brand of football that is illuminating Europe.

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