I REMEMBER not being particularly excited when we signed Sadio Mane.
I knew we needed pace, and Mane certainly seemed to have that. But was he the best we could get? Was he “top-four” level? Was he consistent enough week by week?
I will say a number of things in my defence at this stage. First of all Mane had seemed, from the outside, to have had an up and down time at Southampton. He’d broken Robbie Fowler’s Premier League record for the fastest hat trick, but he’d also been dropped more than once for turning up late. He got goals, but it did seem to come with problems.
There was also the general Southampton issue. We’d signed many players from the south coast club over the previous few years, ranging from the quite good to the Rickie Lambert. Nathaniel Clyne had looked a decent enough right back, and Lallana certainly had his moments, but surely it was time to start looking outside of Hampshire for talent?
And looking elsewhere we were. Specifically in Germany and at Mario Gotze. He was young, exciting, had worked with Jürgen Klopp and scored a winning goal in a World Cup Final. What a combination.
Part of a new special generation of German players set to dominate international football for years, surely this was the type of player Liverpool should be looking at to push us forward under Klopp?
Gotze was playing a bit hard to get, but you have to work hard to secure top talent, especially when you had no European football to offer. He wanted to wait until after Euro 2016 to make his decision, but he seemed worth waiting for.
Since that summer Mario Gotze has scored 11 goals in all competitions for Borussia Dortmund, who he rejoined instead. Sadio Mane has got 59 in all competitions, and kicked on every year.
Things could have been different had Gotze joined The Reds, of course, but given his problems with health and injuries, probably not that different. Whereas Mane very quickly became a vital player in this Liverpool side.
Mane became so vital so quickly that his first season at Liverpool seemed to get derailed in his absence. He still scored 13 league goals in 27 appearances. Last season he only managed 10 in the league, but doubled that in Europe, including vital goals in each semi final leg, and of course the final.
This year, Mane finished as the joint Premier League top scorer. He’s become a scorer of many goals and a scorer of big goals. The man for the big occasion.
It’s crazy to think Mane’s temperament was ever doubted. He’s played different positions for Liverpool, played second fiddle to others on occasion, but always delivered for the team. He’s a role model on and off the pitch, and having just turned 27 he can still get better.
You wouldn’t back against him having a big say on where the Champions League trophy goes in June. Liverpool or North London.
Others will be talked about more going into the tie. Salah or Son? Will Firmino and Kane be fit? But don’t be surprised if it is the Senegalese superstar who steals the headlines again.
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“This team have come too far to end the season empty handed…” 🏆
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— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) May 14, 2019