Sadio Mane’s slump reaches new low

Sadio Mane was only inches away from the Ballon d’Or; the inside of a Paris pole hit by his shot in the Champions League final; with the fingertips of Thibaut Courtois, who struck a tree. Perhaps inches away from immortality, from being only the second African to officially become the best player in the world. And if there’s no certainty that he’ll top the poll, eventual runaway winner Karim Benzema has been pushed to the top spot by Champions League glory in the year the poll was taken before the World Cup.

Be that as it may, Mane was named the second best player on the planet in 2022. He ended the 2022-23 campaign at perhaps 16th in line at Bayern Munich: 15 others took the field in the win in Cologne that ended the Bundesliga: teenager Mathis Tel and veteran Eric Maxime Choupo-Moting were called up from the bench, while Mane remained an unused substitute. He was the fifth substitute used last week, sent four minutes before the loss to RB Leipzig.

Manet’s decline was swift, undignified and unexpected. Profitable, given that Bayern are paying him much more than Liverpool, and Al-Nasr, in turn, will pay him more again after he joined the migration to Saudi Arabia. Mane represents one of the flagships of the professional league, but an arrival with distinction: like many others, he is in his thirties, but while Benzema is 35 years old and can claim that his ambitions were realized at Real Madrid, and Cristiano Ronaldo now 38 years old. although stung by the recognition, the European elite did not want him when he left Manchester United, the Senegalese is only 31 years old. So, just for a couple more months, Roberto Firmino, but old buddy Manet’s race seems to be over. On the other hand, he seemed to be at the peak of his form.

This, it is safe to say, is not what Mane had planned when he teased the crowd before the Champions League final, saying that he would reveal his future after it, and when, having stepped out of the shadow of Mohamed Salah, to become the brightest star at Anfield, he declared, that he would “be the happiest player in the world” if he won the Ballon d’Or.

Klopp can be loyal to players who have served him well, and few of them have had the same impact as the catalytic Mane. There was no hint of gloating over the decision to leave, which backfired, but there was no pretense that Manet was thriving in Bavaria. “I don’t know what went wrong,” the Liverpool manager said on Tuesday. “When Sadio left us, he left in very good shape: a world class player, without a shadow of a doubt. To reach your full potential, everything has to fall into place, you need a little luck, and this is not the case.”

Mane’s tenure at Bayern Munich was largely unfortunate

(Getty images)

Of course, there was misfortune as an injury ruled out Mane from the World Cup. His old manager, however, could point out that most of Klopp’s great players are just Klopp’s great players: there are notable exceptions such as Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gündogan, but fewer of those who have never reached such heights somewhere else or under someone else. This category now includes Manet.

“Basically, Sadio had an unsatisfactory season and did not live up to expectations,” Thomas Tuchel said last month. “The player knows my opinion and the opinion of the club.”

Tuchel sounded more condescending ahead of Bayern taking on Liverpool in Singapore, a reunion without Mane after he left both clubs in successive summers. “I understand perfectly well that he is in pain,” he said. “I don’t feel happy either. We have not revealed the full potential, for which I am responsible.”

Mane suffered after Tuchel’s appointment, he started only four times, scored only one goal and was suspended by the club for hitting Leroy Sane after the loss to Manchester City. The regime change worked against him, but the number of goals for the sacked Julian Nagelsmann – 11 – was also unimpressive.

Tuchel-Mane combination didn’t work at Bayern


As Klopp hinted, circumstances may play a role. Mane could thrive in the system without a regular striker at Liverpool and Firmino was usually a false nine before the Senegalese ended his Anfield career in that role. But at Bayern, where the No. 9 has traditionally been a mainstay of the team, the experiment of replacing Lewandowski with a more agile striker failed: the hope that some combination of Manet, Sanet, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller and Jamal Musiala could smoothly match, instead, it came true. Choupo-Moting is more important than ever before and led to a summer chase for Harry Kane.

Bayern is a club with its own dynamics, with ingrained power in the dressing room, a club with stars, but nonetheless a club that hasn’t bought the likes of Mane. Since Arjen Robben 13 years ago, they have not bought such a big striker who was neither German nor recruited from the Bundesliga. If Manet was an outsider, he left after a lonely, increasingly infamous year. And Manet’s 193 votes in the Ballon d’Or in 2022 will likely be 193 more votes than he receives in 2023.

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