It was always going to happen one day.
Just like The Beatles did after a decade dominating the world of music, Liverpool ‘s famous front three – consisting of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane – is breaking up. With 274 goals between them, the image of the trio lining up in red will go down as one of the most memorable pieces of iconography in both Anfield and Premier League history.
There’s been long-running speculation over who the first member to veer off into a solo career will be. Ask Kopites only a few months ago and many would’ve bet on Firmino, whose once assured place as Jurgen Klopp ‘s first-choice striker is long gone. Salah’s departure also maintains an air of inevitably, with his contract up in June 2023 and no team on the planet not admiring his mesmeric ability.
But in May 2022, days after Liverpool lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid in painstaking fashion, it’s fan favourite Mane saying his goodbyes – more specifically in the dressing room post-match. The 30-year-old has decided to leave Merseyside after first rocking up six years ago as Klopp’s first statement signing.
Mane, while yet to officially inform the club and supporters of his desire to depart, is all but set on a new challenge. So, how did we get here? How did one of the most loved Redmen opt to turn his back on Anfield straight after such a sensational, quadruple-chasing season?
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For starters, the former Southampton man’s current deal only runs for another 12 months. Liverpool’s policy is not to reward even the loyalest of servants with lucrative contracts if they’re on the wrong side of 30 – hence why Salah’s negotiations have dragged on for the entire campaign. Club captain Jordan Henderson was even reluctant to accept the club’s initial offer before putting pen to paper on a four-year deal in the autumn.
But the Reds won’t let Mane go without recouping a decent fee, as his future rises up new sporting director Julian Ward’s lengthy to-do list. While the club would prefer to keep the forward for another term and risk losing him for free next summer, a reported fee of £42.5million could tempt them into a selling – but they’d need to have a suitable replacement lined up before sanctioning a sale.
‘They already have Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota?’ you may ask. True, but with Divock Origi also departing amid Firmino and Salah’s uncertain long-term futures, it’s clear that Klopp’s attack needs some supplementing over the summer to compete with Manchester City, who’ve managed to win the race for Erling Haaland, capable of super-charging any front line in world football.
Where to for Mane, then? Well, the Senegalese sensation has been most heavily linked with a move to Bayern Munich, who are looking to offset the potential departure of star striker Robert Lewandowski with a marquee signing of their own. Mane has also attracted the attention of Paris Saint-Germain, but Kylian Mbappe ‘s decision to remain in the French capital appears to have poured cold water on speculation.
However, the former Red Bull Salzburg ace could be holding out for a move to his ‘dream’ destination: LaLiga. Goal reports that Mane fantasised about playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid as a child, although neither seem likely suitors as it stands. The winger sees Spain as the place to cement his legacy and boost his chances of going down as the greatest African player of all-time.
Of course, most would argue that he’s currently not even the best at his own club, with Salah hogging the limelight in recent years. Nevertheless, the talismanic Mane has two up on his teammate at international level in 2022, having already fired Senegal to Africa Cup of N ations glory and World Cup qualification, each of which was to Salah and opponents Egypt ‘s expense.
Feats of that ilk, as well as 22 goals deep into four club competitions this season, puts him in the conversation for the Ballon d’Or, another lifelong ambition. No Premier League player has been awarded the golden ball since Cristiano Ronaldo did at Manchester United in 2008, a disheartening fact for his English top-flight colleagues.
“I’m playing for the team, and the team is most important and I’m really happy to win trophies with my team but at the same time it has been my dream to win the Ballon d’Or,” Mane told The Times. “I wish to win it and I sacrifice everything possible to win it. I have been close and that gives me more motivation and the people never stop supporting me, telling me I can do it. I think we are close and I will win it one day.”
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History would certainly be made if he did, as Liberian icon George Weah is the only African player to have ever won the Ballon d’Or, claiming the coveted award in 27 years ago.
Many outsiders believe that Mane – like Premier League stars such as Ronaldo have done previously – should broaden his horizons, and going by Gary Neville ‘s comments on where Salah will end up once his days at Liverpool are over, Spain is the holy destination.
“I just think that when you look at someone like Cristiano, David Beckham, Mbappe, not everything is for the money,” Neville said when discussing Salah on Sky Sports back in October. “There’s a project, there’s something they want to achieve with their lives. They have to go and play at certain clubs, they have to go and experience certain things. I think Salah has to experience Real Madrid, the Bernbeau.”
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Have your say! Is Mane making the right decisions? Tell us your verdict in the comments section.
For now, it’s a waiting game until Mane goes public with his declaration, having spent Sunday enjoying an open-top bus parade through the streets of Liverpool. While his mind might already be made up as the summer transfer window looms, however, Reds legend Steven Gerrard has questioned his decision.
“Why would you want to leave this Liverpool team because you know that they are going to be competitive in the business end of the season?” Gerrard pondered on BT Sport.
We’ll soon find out.