Sadio Mane, Red Bull Salzburg (John Walton/EMPICS Sport)

The 2014 friendly in Austria that led to Sadio Mane’s Liverpool transfer

Sadio Mane became a Liverpool player five years ago in 2016, but it was two-and-a-half years previous that Michael Edwards and Jurgen Klopp were both alerted to him.

It was been five years since Mane swapped Southampton for Liverpool in a bargain deal worth £30 million, with the striker scoring 97 goals and assisting another 36 in 218 games so far.

Few players have made the impact on Klopp’s side that Mane has managed, while only 17 players in the club’s history have found the back of the net more often than the Senegalese.

He is a prime example of a player who took a slower route to the top, having left Red Bull Salzburg for the Premier League in 2014, with Southampton his two-year stop before Anfield.

Klopp still rues his decision to overlook Mane while he was manager at Borussia Dortmund, with his assistant Peter Krawietz telling the club’s official website that he first came to their attention at the start of 2014.

“I remember the first time I saw him on video. It was a winter friendly game between RB Salzburg and Bayern Munich,” Krawietz recalled.

“I believe Salzburg won this game [3-0] and Sadio scored and it was really, ‘woah, what is that?!’.

“This is why he was already interesting for us at Borussia Dortmund. I believe Jurgen feels that as a manager it was one of his biggest mistakes not to sign him for Borussia Dortmund!

“But then of course we had him always in our minds, we knew how unbelievable he can be.”

Mane scored the opening goal that day in Salzburg, latching onto Kevin Kampl’s through ball to fire low beyond Manuel Neuer, and it was his pace that earned the penalty to make it 2-0, brought down by Dante.

Jonathan Soriano stepped up to convert the spot-kick, and before half-time Mane had laid on another, driving towards the byline on the left before clipping a cross in for Robert Zulj to convert.

Then only 21, Mane played 84 minutes in that friendly, which came in a season that saw him score 23 and assist 18 in 50, eventually paving the way for his £10 million move to Southampton.

Klopp was not yet manager, but Liverpool themselves were already aware of Mane’s talents, as Ralf Rangnick, then sporting director at Salzburg, told The Athletic in 2019.

Michael Edwards said the player wasn’t quite ready for the step up the Premier League yet,” Rangnick claimed.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 24, 2016: Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring the third goal against Hull City during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“There was something about their scouting model not being able to properly evaluate the quality of an Austrian Bundesliga player, too, if I remember correctly.”

In the end, Mane made his way to Anfield – and the rest, of course, is history.

“This was in the end a no-brainer opportunity to bring this player to our squad,” Krawietz added. “That was one of our golden decisions, I would say.”