Sadio Mané: Ball Wizard makes Senegal happy

Senegalese Players, Zonder categorie

Finally, Sadio Mané has managed to bring Senegal what his compatriots hoped for. He did it in the group stage of the Africa Cup, with a decisive goal against Zimbabwe. He did it again in the quarter- and semi-finals with decisive goals against Cape Verde and Burkina Fasso. And he finally did it in the final by converting the last penalty in the deciding penalty shootout against record champion Egypt (seven-time Africa Cup winner). With that goal, Senegal won the African Cup for the first time in its history. Before last penalty kick especially, the pressure was immense because Mané had missed a penalty at the start of the final, as had happened to him several times before when he took on the heavy task of taking penalty for his country.

HEAVY TASK

Finally, Sadio Mané has managed to bring Senegal what his compatriots hoped for. He did it in the group stage of the Africa Cup, with a decisive goal against Zimbabwe. He did it again in the quarter- and semi-finals with decisive goals against Cape Verde and Burkina Fasso. And he finally did it in the final by converting the last penalty in the deciding penalty shootout against record champion Egypt (seven-time Africa Cup winner). With that goal, Senegal won the African Cup for the first time in its history. Before last penalty kick especially, the pressure was immense because Mané had missed a penalty at the start of the final, as had happened to him several times before when he took on the heavy task of taking penalty for his country.

If Mané would have missed the decisive penalty, he would probably have taken the blame for his country again. He missed three big chances in the final. While his teammates looked on with their arms around each other’s shoulders at the penalty kicks of their teammates, Mané pacified impatiently behind them during the shootout. But on his second penalty he makes no mistake, this time the ball goes hard in the corner, behind the Egyptian goalkeeper keeper Gabaski.

f Mané would have missed the decisive penalty, he would probably have taken the blame for his country again. He missed three big chances in the final. While his teammates looked on with their arms around each other’s shoulders at the penalty kicks of their teammates, Mané pacified impatiently behind them during the shootout. But on his second penalty he makes no mistake, this time the ball goes hard in the corner, behind the Egyptian goalkeeper keeper Gabaski.

VICTORY

The fact that Mane even dared to take penalties at all during the African Championship in Cameroon was a victory for himself, because after a number of crucial misses he had previously informed his compatriots that he had better leave the job to someone else. Just as he always leaves the job to a teammate at Liverpool. ‘I practiced hard on it during training sessions at my club’, Mane said after the game against Zimbabwe. ‘You never know with penalties, but at least you have to work hard for it. That’s how I’ve always done it.’ Yet he missed again in the sixth minute of the final against Egypt, despite a long run-up and a hard shot through the middle. There is, again, a minor incident with fellow Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah prior to that missed penalty. Salah whispers something to his keeper Gabaski just before the penalty kick, partly covering his mouth with his hand. Mané walks towards the duo and points cynically to the right: If you want to know, it will be that corner. The worlds best African footballers have had little confrontations at Liverpool before. Particularly in August 2019 when in a 0-3 win against Burnley, Mané reacted angrily because Salah tried to score himself in a situation where an assist to the Senegalese looked like the better option. Afterwards the players made up and Salah made fun of the incident in a Tweet.

In a Tweet in 2019 Mohamed Salah made fun of a confrontation het had with Sadio Mané

Mané was voted best player of the 2022 Africa Cup. The pressure on him was perhaps even greater during this tournament than during matches for Liverpool at Anfield. The Senegalese expect the Liverpool forward to somehow repay his home country for his international fame and success.</p>

During the 2017 African Championship, Mané missed a penalty in the lost quarter-final against Cameroon. He fell to the ground crying and afterwards car was demolished by angry supporters. Two years later, things went wrong again at the very end in the final that Senegal, lost 1-0 to Algeria. Mané missed a penalty earlier in that tournament and promised publicly that he would not take them again. Luckily for his country he has changed his mind.

In the documentary Made in Senegal, we see how Mané is enthusiastically welcomed whenever he returns to his native village. Sadio is waving like a king from his balcony, but the enthusiasm comes at a price. As a star player, Mané is expected to give back to those left behind. ‘We live as a community’, he says in the documentary. ‘In Europe, people are alone. In Senegal we share everything.’

In the documentary Made in Senegal, we see Mané waving like a king from his balcony

IPHONE

Sadio Mané doesn’t seem to care about material stuff and he likes to show it publicly. In 2019 in the corridors of the Liverpool stadium, the cameras caught him with a badly damaged iPhone. When asked, the Senegalese star player explained to a reporter that he had received the phone as a gift from ‘his good friend’ Georginio Wijnaldum. You don’t just throw a gift like that away. ‘Friendship is worth a lot more to me than things’, he said.

HOSPITAL

Mané spends his estimated salary of 170 thousand euros a week on other stuff. A mosque near his native village Bambali in the poor Senegalese province of Casmance for instance. A school for his native village. And a hospital. Before he played the final of the Champions League with Liverpool, in 2018 against Real Madrid, he had 3,000 shirts delivered to his native village of Bambali. ‘I wanted the fans to be able to wear those shirts during the game’, he explained.

The Senegalese have a word for the philosophy of life Mané believes in: terraga, a term that stands for kindness, solidarity and togetherness. Sédhiou in Casamance, where Mané grew up, 400 kilometers from the Senegalese capital Dakar, is a poverty-stricken region, plagued since 1982 by a bloody war of independence.

Mané’s humble attitude and altruism go hand in hand with the values ​​he grew up with as a Muslim. His father was an imam in the mosque of Bambali. He died when Mané was seven years old. A nephew comes to tell him the news when he is playing football with his friends in a square. With the construction of the hospital, Mané hopes to prevent other children going through what he has experienced: if medical help had been available for his father in time, he might still be alive today.

APPLAUSE

In England, Mané has attracted attention several times by making it clear publicly that faith is important to him. In 2018, for example, he caused a stir by walking through the mosque in Liverpool with a bucket and garden hose to clean. However, as a boy he had to firmly set himself against the background from which he came. Ball wizard was his nickname among his friends at school: balonbuwa. If they couldn’t find a football, they played with a rock or a grapefruit. It’s all well, playing football, his family tells him, but he has to concentrate on his studies first. ‘My mother thought I was crazy if I said I wanted to become a football player’, Mané tells in the documentary Made in Senegal, fully dedicated to him. To clarify things at home he gets beaten up a little.

RUN AWAY

He really wants to play football and so Mané runs away from home at the age of fifteen. ‘Because I had no money at all, I prepared everything in detail, he told France Football in 2019. ‘The night before, I hid my gym bag in the tall grass in front of our house so no one would notice that I was leaving. Around six o’clock the next morning I got up and brushed my teeth, I didn’t even take a shower. I had to walk a long way to a friend who lent me the money I needed to take the bus to Dakar.’

Because Senegal is intersected by another country, the Gambia, Mané has to cross the border to reach the Senegalese capital Dakar. He succeeds to do this using a student pass, because he does not have a passport. He stays away from home for two weeks and his family is very worried. In the end, Mané returns to his native village on the condition that he only needs to go to school for one more year. His family eventually agrees to his plans for the future.

With the approval of his family, he is allowed to test train in M’bour, where he quickly convinces the trainers despite his dilapidated football pants and shoes. He transfers to the Génération Foot football academy in Dakar. In Made in Africa, The History of African Players in English Football, Ed Aarons tells that former football player Mady Touré (born and raised in Guinea) started this football academy in 2000 with a gift from his friend, singer Youssou N’Dour.

Génération Foot is a satellite club that the French club uses Metz as a breeding ground for talent. Mané gets promoted to the second division with the club, but will only end up staying there for six months as he makes an indelible impression on Olivier Perrin, president of the Metz youth academy. ‘He picked up the ball in his own penalty area, ran across the field and gave a decisive pass to someone who was well defended’, Perrin said in the documentary Made in Senegal. ‘Watching him play was like watching a video game.’

Mané is allowed to go to France for a trial period at Metz. He has never flown before and is terrified that he will miss the plane. When he is on it, he finally dares to believe that he has managed to start playing in Europe.

He arrives in Metz on January 4, 2011. ‘The first thing I noticed was the wind’, Mané says in the documentary. When he first enters the training field, he wears a short-sleeved T-shirt and his teammates laugh at him. After five minutes, Mané flees into the dressing room to put his hands under the hot tap. A painful experience.

Still, there are bigger threats to Mané than the cold. In France, he is not a shadow of the player Olivier Perrin has een performing in Africa: ‘He couldn’t accelerate. He did nothing.’

It turns out that Mané has a terrible pain in his back, but doesn’t dare say anything about it: ‘I was afraid they would send me back.’

In the locker room, Mané bursts into tears. He is sent to the doctor and turns out to have a hernia. He is undergoing surgery and then has to recover for eight months. In the end, Mané will play ten matches at the second French level and then a few more matches in the National, the third level in France because Metz is relegated. Still, the Senegalese has made enough of an impression to arouse the interest of Red Bull Salzburg.

At the Austrian club, Jürgen Klopp sees him at work for the first time and Mané certainly does not impress the then coach of Borussia Dortmund. ‘I saw a very young guy with his crooked baseball cap’ the current Liverpool manager told Made in Senegal. ‘A blond streak in his hair, which he still has. He looked like a wanna be rapper. I thought: I don’t have time for this.’

KOEMAN

Yet Mané makes it in Austria. He scores 45 times in 87 matches, becomes champion twice and attracts the attention of Ronald Koeman. As coach of Southampton, the Dutchman brings Sadio Mané to England in 2014, where he does well with 25 goals in 75 games. On May 16, 2015, Manée scored a hat-trick for Southhampton in 2 minutes and 56 seconds. No player in the Premier League has ever achieved that so quickly. The previous record holder Robbie Fowler needed 4 minutes and 33 seconds in 1994.

MOST EXPENSIVE AFRICAN PLAYER

In a meeting with Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp finds out that his negative first impression of Mané was mistaken. Southampton is 2-0 behind, but Mane then puts things in order with two goals. Klopp is deeply impressed, although the German does not immediately show that after the game. Bare-chested, Mané receives a fleeting hug from the apparently disinterested and irritated manager.

Appearances are deceiving because not long after, Liverpool snatches him away him from Southampton. With the €41.2 million the English club paid for him in June 2016, he is at the time the most expensive African player ever, but that record does not last long. The transfers of Salah (from Roma to Liverpool), Naby Keita (from Leipzig to Liverpool) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (from Dortmund to Arsenal) and Cedric Bakambu (from Villareal to Beijing Guan) have all been more expensive since.

In 2019 and 2020, Mané will experience the preliminary highlights of his career winning the Premier League and the Champions League with Liverpool. In the final against Tottenham Hotspur, Mané forces a penalty after 26 seconds. In the end, the Belgian Origi scores the winning goal for Liverpool.

In the Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur, Sadio Mané forces a penalty for Liverpool after 26 seconds

Mané has promised his uncle who bought him football boots and helped him when it was really needed .that he will never have to work in the fields again. Together with him he built a house in Dakar. He is hardly ever there himself, but his homeland is never far away in his life. ‘Of course I’m a Muslim’, he says in Made in Senegal. ‘Faith is my foundation. I try to pray five times a day. And sometimes a few extra prayers to appease Allah. And every year we recite the Quran for my father.’

When he can’t sleep after a game because there is still too much adenaline in his blood, he calls his mother, but the interest in the performances he has delivered turns out to be minimal. ‘Yes, mother, I’m going to prayer tomorrow’ he promises her.

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