Sadio Mane might return to his former home tonight. As Liverpool continue to chase down Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, Southampton are preparing to host the Reds at St. Mary’s.
The Senegalese forward played 120 minutes of football against Chelsea in his team’s recent FA Cup final. He could be due to have a rest but as a result of Mohamed Salah’s current injury status, Mane may need to play a part. Some early suggestions on social media indicate he is possibly not in the squad, however.
But the 30-year-old has appeared transformed since the turn of the year. Jurgen Klopp has deployed him through the middle of Liverpool’s favoured 4-3-3 system in recent months, and he’s thrived.
Mane has always been a versatile talent but perhaps this season more than ever, he’s proved to be an incredibly adaptable performer.
It was Gerard Houllier who initially spotted his unique talent. The ex- Reds boss and club legend identified him as a big prospect while acting as Head of Global Football for Red Bull at the London Olympics in 2012.
“What I liked straight away was his speed and ability on the ball. It was fantastic for a boy of his age,” said Houllier. “I had also seen him on French television.
“I quickly discovered that Metz would be willing to sell for financial reasons. Salzburg agreed to buy him and we paid £4million. The potential was there and we just had to make sure he was well looked after.”
Houllier was instrumental behind Mane’s move from Metz to Red Bull Salzburg and during his time in Austria, the pacey attacker thrived because of his team’s offensive playing style.
Red Bull are wedded to an aggressive, fast and direct style of play that adequately represents the values of their energy drink brand. The football played by the teams under their wing tends to incorporate plenty of pressing, counter-attacks and turnovers.
Their philosophical approach is closely associated with that of Klopp, which offers an insight into why so many players have moved from Red Bull clubs to Merseyside in recent years, including Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino and Ibrahima Konate.
Interestingly, Klopp’s upcoming opponent on Tuesday night has also been a part of the Red Bull network. Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge of RB Leipzig from 2016 to 2018, and took the club from the lower leagues into the Bundesliga.
During Klopp’s time in the German top-flight, he had the opportunity to sign Mane but opted against it, which is a decision he later regretted.
“I have made a few mistakes in my life and one of the biggest mistakes ever was not taking Sadio when I was at Dortmund,” he said. “We were together in my office but I wasn’t sure about signing him. It was completely my fault.”
Mane would have been ideal for BVB at the time, but he moved to Southampton from Salzburg instead and proceeded to score a brace against Liverpool just five months after Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers in the hot seat.
The German coach was understandably impressed, and he brought Mane to Anfield in the following transfer window. Since, he’s won every possible trophy as a Liverpool star and he’s become one of the faces of the club’s resurgence to the summit of European football.
It remains to be seen whether Mane will line up tonight for a return to his old south coast side. But there can be no doubting what a truly massive player he is for Liverpool.