The road from Southampton to Liverpool is well travelled and Sadio Mane could be the latest to make the journey from the South Coast. Liverpool have made some smart signings already this summer, but Mane would represent the first for a significant amount of money. After being linked heavily with Mario Gotze, Liverpool fans will be forgiven for being a little underwhelmed with the pursuit of Mane. However, Jurgen Klopp is an excellent judge of player, just look at the players he brought into Borussia Dortmund, who have now established themselves as some of the best in the world. He understands the squad building process well, and will target players that fit into his tactical plan and have the right character to succeed.
Sadio Mane has had an interesting career to date and formed his reputation in Austria, playing for Red Bull Salzburg. He did extremely well in Austria, scoring lots of goals, while putting in some of his best performances in the Europa League, which brought him to the attention of a lot of clubs. Jurgen Klopp has known him since his days at Salzburg and there were reports linking Mane to Borussia Dortmund before his move to Southampton, showing that the German has been a long term admirer of the attacker. It isn’t surprising that the Liverpool boss is renewing his interest in the Senegalese international, especially after missing out on Ousmane Dembele to his former club.
In terms of contribution in the final third, Sadio Mane has scored 21 goals and got 9 assists in the Premier League across two seasons for Southampton. That averages out at a goal involvement every 158.1 minutes, which isn’t bad at all. The one criticism often brought up about Mane is that he is very much a streaky player and one that does well over a 10 game run, but can then be invisible for the next 20. Consistency is something that needs to be added to his game. Liverpool fans will be concerned about this, as they need a player to come in and regularly contribute goals and assists. I’d expect Klopp to have similar worries, but Mane is a player that has a lot of ability, and the Liverpool manager will believe that he can help the forward become more consistent.
Another worry will be his international involvement, with the African Cup of Nations coming up in January. Mane would miss a month of action and this makes him a riskier signing than a South American or European, who will be available for the entire campaign. This is probably a concern that Liverpool will use during negotiations to get a few million of the price tag for him. If he does sign, he would be the second African signed this summer after Joel Matip, therefore its certainly a concern for the club.
His main strength is his dribbling ability. His close ball control, mazy footwork and impressive turn of pace can make him a nightmare for defenders to deal with. His movement and ability to get into goalscoring positions is also one of the better parts to his game. He would bring a more direct threat to the Liverpool attack, and could be a perfect complement for Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. His tactical flexibility will also appeal to Klopp as he can be played anywhere across the attacking line. Last season, he was most threatening when playing on the right side of the attack, as he scored five times and assisted twice in nine starts. That could be the position he makes his own at Anfield.
Mane is at the forefront of his country’s golden generation, with his country’s former manager Claude Le Roy tipping him as a future Balon D’Or winner. This may be over the top, but it clearly shows why Klopp is pursuing him so heavily. He is certainly a rough diamond, who has become more polished since arriving in the Premier League, getting physically stronger, and learning more about how to be effective in this league. However, there is a concern that for Mane to continue progressing and to become the player he wants to be, he needs to move to a bigger club.
The transfer fee of between £25-30m is no longer absurd in this era of football. He does bring Premier League experience, although that term is perhaps overvalued given the failures of recent Liverpool signings. Christian Benteke being the most obvious example. The difference with Mane is that he is far better suited to Liverpool’s style of play and at the age of 24, he has a lot of room to develop. The coaching of Jurgen Klopp will help him no end and although its a big risk to bring yet another player from the South Coast, this is a new dawn for Liverpool with Jurgen Klopp calling the shots. The German doesn’t get much wrong in terms of player recruitment. If he believes Mane to be a good fit for his Liverpool side, it would be brave for people to bet against the Senegalese international being a success.