Sadio Mane has hit the ground running and has been an instant success at Liverpool but the majority of fans know little about his time before he joined Liverpool.
Fans would have been familiar with him from his days as a Southampton player before Liverpool used their Southampton Loyalty Card to bring him to Anfield this Summer but few would have known much about him before that.
After being included in Goal 50, a list compiled of the best 50 players in the world where he places in 39th spot, Mane spoke to Goal.com and outlined his early football career and the struggles he went through to get noticed.
He recalls a time he had to make a 500 mile journey from his home city of Sedhiou to attend a trial as a 15 year old saying, “I left my city to go to the capital with my uncle, and there were trials on.”
“We went to them and there were lots of boys being tested and getting organised into teams. I will never forget this, and it is funny now, but when I went to try out there was an older man that looked at me like I was in the wrong place.”
“He asked me ‘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?’”
“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.”
“He came to me and said ‘I’m picking you straight away. You’ll play in my team.’ After those trials, I went to the academy.”
Mane took some convincing to leave home and go to the academy, Generation Foot which is responsible for producing player like Papiss Cisse and Diafra Sakho.
He recalls, “I was in the city, just playing ‘on the way’ – in the street or wherever there was a game.”
“Since I was two or three years old, I remember always being with the ball. I would see kids playing on the street, and would join them.”
“That is how I started – just on the roads. When I got older, I would go to watch games, especially when the national team played. I wanted to see my heroes and imagine myself as them.”
“There was big excitement in the country in 2002 during the World Cup, but it was already only football for me before that.”
Senegal advanced to the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup in their first appearance in the tournament, beating hosts France in the opening match.
“We also used to have a tournament in our village, and I would always go to see that.”
“Everyone would tell me I was the best in the city, but my family wasn’t a footballing one. They are big on religion and wanted different things for me.”
“When they could see that in my head and my heart there was only football, I started to convince them to let me go to Dakar.”
“In the beginning they didn’t accept it, but the more they saw how much I wanted it and that there was nothing else for me, they helped me.”
Such was Mane’s obvious talent that people who didn’t know even helped to ensure that he got the best possible chance to impress and improve. He mentions his uncle as one of the people who helped.
“My uncle was a big help, but not the only one at the start. When I moved to Dakar, I went to live with a family that I didn’t even know!”
“My family knew someone who knew them, and he took me to their house. They took me in, they took care of me and did everything to help me just worry about football until I left for Metz.”
Mane later moved to Red Bull Saltzburg where he was watched closely by a host of managers, including Jurgen Klopp who had noticed him during the Olympics in 2012.
Klopp tried to bring Mane to Borrusia Dortmund but Salzburg were very difficult to deal with and the move never went through.
Mane remembers, “I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it – that he wanted to meet and thought I could help his team, who were so good. I used to watch them all the time.”
“Things didn’t work out back then and it was frustrating, but that’s life – nothing just comes easy”
“I told myself to just carry on working hard, push myself and something big would come. I did that. I went to Southampton, I played well and then, Klopp wanted me again”
Mane had a big money offer to move to the Russian league with Spartak Moscow but he wanted to advance his career by playing football in Europe and moved to Southampton in 2014 where he reached double figure goal tally’s in both season’s at St Mary’s.
Klopp came calling again in Summer 2016 and this time Mane jumped at he chance to work with the 49 year old German he clearly has huge admiration for.
“Now I’m lucky enough to be working with one of the best managers in football. It was meant to happen and I am very happy to be learning all the time from him.”
When he scored his first goal for Liverpool at the Emirates stadium against Arsenal, he ran, pointing to his new manager with his arms outstretched and jumped on Klopp’s back.
Reminising about the earlier times and sacrifices people made for him Mane said, “I was so young and it wasn’t easy at all to leave what I knew.”
“I missed my family so much, missed being with my mum and my sisters. But to be a footballer is all I wanted and I knew these tough days were to help me achieve that.”
“Many, many, many people I grew up with, such skilful players, didn’t have the chance I did to become a professional.”
“I knew the things that were hard were important for me to succeed. Now I am here, with no regrets, living my dream.”
Mane has slotted right into life at Liverpool and has developed close relationships with a number of Liverpool players, which is evident in their on pitch relationship as well as they act as one unit in Liverpool’s dynamic attacking partnership.
“A good thing for footballers is not to think too much, especially when you’ve got to move to a big team like Liverpool, because that’s when you start to confuse your mind.”
“In my head, I knew I was coming to a team that wanted me, to a manager who knew me well, and I was coming to work hard and to help.”
“That is all I focused on, not how things would go or what could happen – good or bad. I left my mind open and was ready for anything.”
“I’m very happy to be part of a team with big, big talent with everyone working for each other. It makes it easy for a player when you’ve got really good teammates and when everyone wants the same thing.”
“When you’re a little boy, sometimes you think you know everything about football. You want to do it your way.”
“But I have learnt so many different styles, different tactical things, and how to be a more complete player from my days at the academy until now, with the help of great coaches and teammates.”
“I’m someone who likes to listen, who likes to watch and who likes to learn.”
“I’m still young and building myself and I always want to improve. Every day is another chance to work hard and to go closer to being successful.”