It’s been one of the most eventful seasons of Sadio Mane’s career, both at club and international level, and while a Ballon d’Or may be looming, so too is a move away from Liverpool.
Mane finished the 2021/22 season having lifted three major trophies, and having secured legendary status with both Liverpool and Senegal.
There are few players who have made such a mark on the global game during the past year, and regardless of his next move, the jovial winger will go down as one of the club’s most outstanding attackers.
It is important, then, that his expected transfer after six years at Liverpool does not sour the season that came before.
Sadio Mane, 2021/22
Started: 46 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 5
Unused sub: 0
Overall Season Rating: 9.5
Becoming Liverpool’s first-choice striker
In nine Premier League games towards the end of the season, and in both domestic cup finals, Mane was used as a central striker rather than in his usual position on the wing.
He has long been one of Liverpool’s best target men.
It’s an underrated trait of his and has meant he can be an outlet from long balls down the left in the air, on the ground or behind a defence.
In recent times he appears to have lost some of that ability to sprint in behind or beat players. This is likely down to the sheer number of games he’s played, leading to physical and mental fatigue, but it hasn’t stopped him from being effective.
The arrival of Luis Diaz – a player who brought some of the energy and dribbling ability Mane had lost – plus an injury to Roberto Firmino allowed Mane drop into the centre-forward position later in the season, and it is a role he fulfiled to great effect.
Those target-man traits came into play and he was a viable alternative to Firmino, and often the preferred option even after the Brazilian had recovered from injury.
He was able to drop into midfield and hold up the ball, while using those winger skills to make it difficult for defenders to keep track of his movements in and out of possession.
As Liverpool’s striker sometimes ends up as a No. 10 at the tip of a midfield diamond, Mane was now acting as the number on his back would suggest.
Klopp on Sadio Mane: "He's a machine, I told him after the game. Massive player. A mix of technique, desire and physicality. Top goal. Just a fantastic world-class player." ????
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) May 10, 2022
On top of this, he is a relentless presser and is one of the quickest players in the Liverpool team when it comes to closing opponents down.
This is a vital asset in Jurgen Klopp’s system.
A Senegal icon in the mix for the Ballon d’Or
Mane’s Senegal side were involved in two massive events during the past year, and they came out on top on both occasions – thanks, for the most part, to the Liverpool man.
They won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their history, with Mane scoring the winning penalty in the final against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt.
Mane scored three goals during the tournament and was named its best player.
For Senegal, he is the complete player – from playmaker to winger to target-man striker – and this helped him later in the season for Liverpool when he was moved into the centre.
On the second of these big occasions, Mane’s Senegal once again triumphed over Salah’s Egypt, defeating them in a playoff to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Once again, Mane scored the winning penalty after a 1-1 draw across two legs.
These international feats went on to set the tone of a narrative between him and Salah, with Mane emerging as the more likely Ballon d’Or contender from this world-class Liverpool side.
Had Liverpool won the Champions League, it would have been difficult to vote against an AFCON and UEFA champion.
As it stands the France Football gong will probably go to Karim Benzema, but Mane’s achievements for club and country in 2022 cannot be overlooked on the world stage.
An Anfield farewell?
With one year remaining on his current Liverpool contract, it’s no surprise that a player of Mane’s quality is attracting interest from some of Europe’s top clubs.
Bayern Munich have reportedly made a £21m transfer offer, but for such a world-class player Liverpool would be right to hold out for more regardless of the short time left on his contract.
At this moment, another year from Mane is worth more to Liverpool than such a low transfer fee.
He’s embedded in the system, is popular in the dressing room and is one of the club’s best-ever players still playing for the club.
He’s just turned 30, so is approaching the end of his peak, but still has plenty to offer given the way he can adapt to play any role in the front three or even as a No. 10.
The question remains as to whether he will be offering it to Liverpool or another of Europe’s big clubs.
Best moment: Winning the Africa Cup of Nations.
Worst moment: His penalty in the FA Cup final wasn’t the best.
Role next season: Versatile forward, probably for Bayern Munich…