Saturday Oct 15, 2022. 15:00
In a time where the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski are heading into the twilight phases of their career, up and coming talents have emerged to take their place at the top of the footballing throne.
While many top talents are thrown into the ‘next big thing’ hat, a serious case can be made for Senegalese star Sadio Mane as one of the best players from the African continent and also… the world.
For years, Mane’s exploits with Liverpool have gone somewhat under the radar. Mane’s teammate, Mohamed Salah, proved to be one of Liverpool’s most talismanic figures in the modern day Premier League era. Naturally, Salah grabbed most of the headlines and has outscored the Senegalese star in each season they played together at the club.
In their first season playing alongside each other, Salah scored 44 goals while recording 16 assists in the 2016/17 season. Mane’s 20 goals and nine assists was well-appreciated by the Liverpool fans, however, Salah led the way by a considerable margin.
The theme of Salah outscoring Mane continued for five seasons in succession thereafter, and on two occasions, their goal scoring tally was separated by just the single goal. As a result of Salah’s consistency, the Egyptian walked away with back-to-back African Footballer of the Year awards in 2017 and 2018.
In the last couple of years, Mane has gotten the better of Salah when being pitted directly against each other, particularly at national team level. With the factor of playing for one badge and being teammates out of the question, representing the Lions of Teranga was one portal in which Mane could step out of Salah’s shadow, and he did.
In 2019, Senegal managed to reach the Africa Cup of Nations final but was narrowly beaten by Algeria, who came away with a 1-0 win at the Cairo International Stadium. In spite of the defeat, Mane was awarded with the African Footballer of the Year award as he finally got one over the Egyptian superstar.
Roll on 2021, Mane and Salah were then pitted against each other in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, which was held in Cameroon. Billed as a showdown between two of Africa’s best players of their current generation, it was Mane who prevailed as he scored the winning penalty in a thrilling shootout at the Olembe Stadium.
Now, for the first time in his career, Mane had gotten one over Salah and he did so on a grand scale. In fact, Mane was named the Player of the Tournament after recording three goals and two assists in the competition. Soon thereafter, the new Bayern Munich star began getting the plaudits he deserved and was awarded with yet another Africa Footballer of the Year award.
Mane was also named among a list of 30 stars for the 2022 Ballon d’Or award, which will be revealed on October 17. The 30-year-old’s contribution to his national team, coupled with the individual accolades he had won in the last year, makes him a strong contender for the prestigious award.
Above all else, Mane’s standing as one of, if not the best African player at present, is supported by trophies and honours that have previously evaded the tenacious footballer. In facing tough opposition and overcoming adversity, Mane’s rise to the top has not been easy.
However, Mane has now received the respect he deserves, which came from his own hard work and determination.