Sadio Mane’s meteoric rise from Sedhiou to African Footballer of the Year

Sadio Mané, the pride of Senegal, has had a rise to superstardom unlike any other. Follow his incredible story from the streets of Sedhiou to Champions League and Club World Cup winner.

From the very beginning Mané was doubted by everyone, even by his parents. His parents insisted he get a proper education, but Sadio was resolute on becoming a footballer. He later said: “My parents felt that I should study to become a teacher. They thought football was a waste of time and I’d never succeed at it. I always said: ‘This is the only job that will enable me to help you. And I think I have a chance to become a footballer.’”

He left his hometown of Sedhiou at 15 to pursue his dream, running away from home. Mané detailed his escape: “At sunset, I hid in the tall grass, in front of my house, my sports bag with my things so that I wasn’t surprised when leaving. And early the following morning, at around 06:00, I brushed my teeth and didn’t even take a shower. I left without telling anyone, apart from my best friend. I walked for a long time to meet up with a friend who loaned me some money so that I could take the bus to Dakar.”

Mané travelled 500 miles to Senegal’s capital city Dakar, only for his parents to find out after his friend told them. They agreed that he would return for the rest of the school year and would go back to Dakar after.

Now 16, Sadio travelled with his uncle to Dakar to attend tryouts, where he was doubted once again. On when he first arrived at the trials, Mané said: “When I presented myself, I was laughed at. I did not look like a footballer. I was wearing pants that looked nothing like football shorts. And my football boots were completely shredded on the sides and had been repaired by me with wire the best I could. Those who oversaw the trials would look at me with a bizarre facial expression: ‘You really want to become a footballer?'”

Looking back on his trials, Mané recalled how he quickly changed the opinion of Génération Foot coach Pa Malang. “He asked ‘are you here for the test?’ I said I was. He asked me, ‘with those boots? Look at them. How can you play in them?’. They were bad, really bad – torn and old. Then he said, ‘and with those shorts? You don’t even have proper football shorts?’”

Mané’s family home in Bambali, Senegal.

“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.” Like always, his performance spoke numbers, with Malang saying to him after his trial: “I’m picking you straight away. You’ll play in my team.” 

It took a while, but Mané had made it to the Génération Foot academy, which was unthinkable to those around him growing up, but seems so minor when considering the magnitude of his career now. The Génération Foot academy is one of the premier organizations when it comes to developing Senegalese talents, nurturing the likes of Diafra Sakho, legendary striker Papiss Demba Cissé, and more recently, Watford starlet Ismaïla Sarr.

Génération Foot has formal ties to French side Metz. Every year the best Génération Foot gets to trial with Metz, Mané was selected to go to France, and the Ligue 2 side realized his talent and snapped up the opportunity to sign the future world beater.

Mane playing at FC Metz.

Sadio faced challenges at Metz also, with a pelvic injury that he sustained soon after he arrived in north-east France preventing him from assimilating both on and off the pitch. “I was injured for a few months, five or six, I don’t know. It was not easy at the start. The weather was tough, the culture was not the same. I was really missing home because it was so different to what I knew in Senegal and especially my village…” Mané said.

Mane broke into Metz’s senior side and later impressed for Senegal at the 2012 London Olympics. A transfer to Red Bull Salzburg followed later in the summer of 2012, for the or the third biggest transfer fee that FC Metz had ever received, believed to be €4 million.

Mane at the 2012 London Olympics with Senegal.

Although he only spent a lone season in France, Mané said he couldn’t overstate the importance of his time in Metz. “That period of my life, it got me to where I am now,” he says. “It was when I learned all the fundamentals of football with Jules and also with Olivier Perrin. They were very important times in my life.”

Now at Salzburg, another club known for developing stars, especially Africans such as Malian Amadou Haidara and current Liverpool teammate Naby Keïta, Mané was ready to flourish. 19 goals in his first season in Austria opened the eyes of many clubs, but his second season gave him all of the options in the world. After scoring 18 goals and providing 16 assists in the Austrian Bundesliga and UEFA Europa League, Mané was ready to leave, the question was where.

 

“Sadio had offers from places like China and Russia but also bigger clubs in Europe. We said: ‘no, now is not the time to make just big money or sitting on a bench in a top club, we want to take a career step’, so he accepted the offer for less money from Southampton because we felt this was the right move at that stage. I had a few conversations with the manager and director of football there and they gave us a good feeling. Sadio trusted in the right people and in the end it paid off. His agent said.

Mané celebrating after scoring a goal for Red Bull Salzburg.

 

Before departing Salzburg for the south coast of England in 2014, Mané had a meeting with current coach Jurgen Klopp, who wanted to fit the tricky Senegalese winger into his dazzling Borussia Dortmund team. Salzburg did not allow the move to formalize, but the Mané-Klopp relationship was in the works for a long time. 

Mané with Southampton.

Sadio gained global attention during Southampton’s final home match of the season, when he scored three times in 2 minutes 56 seconds in a 6–1 win over Aston Villa to set a new Premier League record for the fastest hat-trick, beating Robbie Fowler’s 1994 record.

A little over a year later, Mané would join Fowler’s club Liverpool for a fee of £34 million, making him the most expensive African transfer at the time.

Liverpool unveiling the signing of Sadio Mané.

His first season with Liverpool was rather uneventful. With the club transitioning from their times of recent mediocrity under Brendan Rodgers to the European powerhouse that they are now under Jürgen Klopp, Mané was essential in helping improve the club’s status, on and off the pitch.

In his second season, now paired up with Egyptian Mohamed Salah, Mané took a back seat to make way for Salah’s 32 goal season in the Premier League. Mané scored only 10 league goals that season.

It was in the UEFA Champions League that Mané shined though, with the Senegalese international equaling his league goal tally (10) in the continental competition in almost a third as many games. More importantly than his goal tally though, he reached the final of the Champions League, scoring in the Red’s 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in Kiev.

Mané finished second in CAF’s African Player of the Year voting that year, behind his Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah. It was widely believed that Salah was the superior of him and Mané, sparking rumours of a rift between the two Africans.

Although both Mané and Salah were quick to dispute the rumours, citing healthy competition, Mané shined in the 2018/19 season, reaching heights that were not believed to be possible.

Mané scored 26 goals in 39 games in the Premier League and Champions League, winning the Premier League Golden Boot alongside fellow Africans Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah.

His team accolades in the 2018/19 season were more impressive though. His Liverpool side narrowly missed out on the Premier League title to Manchester City, but weeks later he lifted the Champions League trophy after the Reds dismantled Spurs in Madrid.

That summer, he led the Teranga Lions to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations before losing in the final to Algeria. Had a few more games gone in his team’s favor, Mané could have finished the season with a Premier League and AFCON trophy in addition to the Champions League.

Mané celebrating against Uganda at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Mané’s performances across the season were spectacular. The boy from Sedhiou who was ridiculed at his first trials was now the best left winger in the world. He finished fourth in the Ballon D’or voting, losing out to Lionel Messi. He caught the attention of the world.

But more importantly to the tabloids and debating fans, Mané finally eclipsed Salah and was without a doubt the best African footballer, as was confirmed by his winning of the 2019 African Player of the Year Award.

Sadio Mané has continued his excellent form this season as well, scoring 15 and assisting 11 while leading Liverpool to a 13 point lead in the league, an UEFA Super Cup, and most recently the FIFA Club World Cup trophy in Qatar.

While Mané dazzles with his performances every week, it’s his actions off the pitch that make him a fan-favourite. A video of him helping members of the staff carry water bottles off the Senegal team bus left fans full of praise for the forward on social media.

Ahead of the 2018 Champions League final, he donated 300 Liverpool shirts to the people of his home village, Sedhiou. He recently donated donated over £240,000 to build a two-storey secondary school in Bambali, Senegal and was given a warm reception as he arrived in his village.

He also donated to construct a hospital and a mosque (a tribute to his late father, who was an Imam) in Senegal.

In Liverpool, he keeps a low profile to fit in with the rest of the people. Liverpool Imam Abu Usamah Al-Tahabi said of Sadio: “He comes to the mosque often. At his house he has a Bentley – but he comes to us in a not-so-fancy car, so he is incognito. He’s not a person looking for fanfare. There’s no arrogance. Sadio comes from a poor community. He is the type of guy who will help. He has a lot of initiatives and has helped build a mosque in his home village.”

To show just how far he’s come, I will conclude with a story from his time at Metz. When he saw a reporter with a camera, he asked for him to take a picture so that he could show his mother, who had not seen him in quite some time. The reporter said, “He saw I got a camera, and he asked me to take a picture of him because he wanted to show his mother. I asked him for his email address. He shook his head. He only gave me the address of the club (Metz). At last, he asked ‘It’s free, right?'”