UNLESS you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, you’ll be well aware by now of some of the major stories doing the rounds. Britain has decided to leave the EU. England have been knocked out of the Euros in humiliating fashion by a nation with a population the size of Leicester. At long last, Roy Hodgson is now widely recognised as a national disgrace and has immediately resigned from a job he was never suitable for. The country is in full-on meltdown.
In and among all this mass hysteria, Liverpool have just signed a new player for £30million. And, yes, he will arrive from Southampton.
You can reel out all the same, boring jokes once again. The club that gave us Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne (Rickie Lambert, too, but let’s ignore that one). It’s a track record that is really not that bad when you look at it — although legitimate questions can be asked about how we go about identifying these talents earlier, before having to pay a premium price for them.
Welcome to Liverpool then, Sadio Mane.
Before anyone tries to tell you he’s already a flop before he’s even kicked a ball for the Reds, let’s be clear: Mane scored more goals in the Premier League than any Liverpool player last season. He may not be the most exciting signing in the world, but what he brings is blistering pace and end product, in abundance, from wide areas — something Liverpool lacked all of last season.
The price tag is a major concern for plenty of fans, it seems. There’s no avoiding it — a reported £34million (potentially rising to £36m according to the BBC) is a lot of money and makes Mane the second (and maybe later, the) most expensive Liverpool player of all time.
But with the new Premier League TV deal, and the cash it means is floating around clubs’ coffers, this is a hugely inflated transfer market. A transfer market in which the reigning Premier League champions are bidding £25m for Troy Deeney. Maybe £30m is the new £20m (although Manchester United were reportedly quoted a similar price when they enquired after Mane in January). Also, ask yourself how many other players are out there that are attainable and of a similar profile to Mane for a considerably cheaper price.
There aren’t too many I can think of.
None of this should really matter, though. What matters is that Jürgen Klopp who remember said he has “the first word and the last word” on players wants Mane and FSG have backed him in the transfer market.
That’s good enough for me, and maybe it should be good enough for you. Had we signed Mane under Brendan Rodgers, there might be more grounds for scepticism — but this isn’t Rodgers. This is Klopp. It’s a new era for Liverpool under a top-class manager with a track record of making good players better. Let’s trust his judgement.
Mane’s biggest weakness is arguably his inconsistency. Unplayable when at his best, but with a tendency to go through dry spells without influencing games. Despite scoring 15 goals last season (including four against the Reds), he went 19 Premier League appearances without finding the back of the net before ending the season in superb form. This is a legitimate concern, but if Mane was performing at his maximum level week in, week out, he’d most likely be at Bayern Munich by now, not at Southampton.
Indeed, I can’t help but think that if Mane had come from a foreign club — let’s say Schalke, for the sake of argument — the reaction among Liverpool fans to his arrival would be far more positive. Still only 24, there is plenty of time for Klopp to work with Mane, iron out his inconsistency and nurture his considerable potential to become an even better player. That’s how Klopp likes to operate.
It might feel underwhelming to sign Mane when many of us expected Mario Gotze to be arriving at Liverpool this summer but the truth is that Gotze has been totally abject for Germany at the Euros. He has been told, in no uncertain terms, that he is not a part of Carlo Ancelotti’s plans at Bayern Munich. And yet, he seems adamant he wants to stay. We must ask ourselves — do we really want a player who is content to sit on the bench every week on higher wages, rather than jumping at the chance to resurrect his career under Klopp?
Mane, in contrast, clearly wants to play for Liverpool — that’s the mentality Klopp will want all his signings to have. His numbers are impressive too: 21 goals and nine assists in 67 Premier League appearances for Southampton. That’s more or less one goal involvement every other game.
For Red Bull Salzburg, he tallied up an impressive 31 goals in 63 league appearances.
These are strong returns for a player who predominantly operates out wide. For Liverpool, it looks as if Mane will slot into a right midfield position, most likely taking Adam Lallana’s starting spot — although it is worth noting that Lallana will continue to be an important player for Klopp. Strong competition for places can only be healthy.
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Mane can be seen as an expensive but necessary missing piece in Klopp’s jigsaw. While Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Lallana are all technically excellent, creative players, Mane will bring contrast and balance to Liverpool’s attack. His raw pace and strength, allied to willingness to break the lines with direct runs in behind opposition defences will add a whole new element to Liverpool’s forward line next season.
Also capable of playing centrally as well as out wide, Mane offers the versatility to slot into a variety of systems — something Klopp values highly.
This isn’t to say we should all be going out and getting Mane on the back of our shirts for next season (if you’re into that). It’s not the most exciting signing we’ve ever made but it’s certainly one I can get behind. The prospect of an attacking midfield trio of Coutinho, Firmino and Mane interchanging behind Daniel Sturridge is a tantalising one.
So often in recent transfer windows the club have spent too long ‘monitoring’ targets before failing to pay the asking price, then missing out. It is refreshing to see Klopp pinpoint a target and the owners paying up to get the deal done and dusted. Mane will now be able to take full part in pre-season under Klopp — benefiting from crucial preparation and instruction for the season ahead.
Following in the not so prestigious footsteps of compatriots Salif Diao and El-Hadji Diouf, Mane is already the best Senegalese player we’ve ever had, which is nice. Liverpool have also repeated their notorious trick of signing a player who always has the game of his life against them, so there’s that, too.
Are you convinced yet? I hope you are. Either way, he’s ours now, so we get right behind him. Sadio Mane is a Red.