Despite spending £35 million to move from Liverpool to Bayern Munich last summer, Sadio Mane has struggled during his time in the Bundesliga.
“Stay here, and they’ll eventually erect a statue in your honor. If you transfer to another team, such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, or Real Madrid, you will become just another player. You can be more than you are here.”
A few months before Philippe Coutinho moved to Camp Nou for a club-record £142 million, Jurgen Klopp issued the Brazilian a warning. Over the past six years, this warning has been exploited to the fullest extent possible. The likelihood is that you will have run into it countless times in the years that have followed if you were unaware of it at the time.
In fact, Coutinho would move to Barcelona before going on loan to Bayern Munich. While he would go on to win the treble with the Bundesliga team and two La Liga championships and a Copa del Rey with the former, he was only a supporting cast member for both.
Both the Catalans and the Bavarians had fought valiantly to get the playmaker to their teams only to quickly decide he wasn’t for them. There has never been a better time to use the proverb “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
At Barcelona and Bayern, Coutinho was considered “just another player,” and the same is true of him now that he is at Aston Villa. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Unai Emery became the latest manager to release the unwanted Brazilian at the end of the season after yet another unsuccessful campaign. Steven Gerrard permanently signed the Brazilian last summer for £17 million after a successful loan.
The time when the 30-year-old was Liverpool’s talisman, guiding them to the Champions League for just the second time in eight years, is long gone. His accomplishments at Anfield have long since been overshadowed by the fact that he left the Reds just as they were about to achieve European and English glory, not that he could have possibly known that at the time.
After almost achieving an unprecedented quadruple last season, Liverpool may have had a transitional season this year, but they have nonetheless won every major award available to them since Coutinho’s departure in January 2018.
The Brazilian is not the only player who may have second thoughts after leaving Liverpool, as Emre Can was frozen out and later released by Juventus after just 18 months in Turin. At least at Borussia Dortmund, he has since repaired his reputation.
Since leaving Liverpool, he has won the DFB-Pokal and a Serie A championship. But the German international, who is only 29 years old, could have accomplished much more if he had not chosen to leave the Reds in the summer of 2018 when his contract with them expired without fully understanding what he was leaving behind.
Actually, neither Coutinho nor Can had any reason to think that Klopp’s Liverpool would be playing for the European Cup again in 2019 as they advanced toward their first Champions League final since 2007 against Real Madrid in 2018. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense to have thought Juventus and Barcelona had a better chance of achieving such success.
Liverpool won the European championship in 2019, though. They would go on to win titles as both the world’s and England’s champions in the months that followed, with last year’s quadruple charge capping the series with domestic double glory.
Because of this, those who have since moved on had the opportunity to be a part of “something more” before moving on to new surroundings. Their work at Anfield may in some cases merit a statue in the future. However, it hasn’t stopped them from becoming ‘just another player’ elsewhere in the present.
After failing to impress after joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in the summer of 2021, Gini Wijnaldum is currently on loan at AS Roma. After only six months at Lyon, Xherdan Shaqiri would leave France and join the Chicago Fire in February 2022.
With so many pivotal goals for the Reds during his seven seasons at Anfield, none bigger than his Champions League trio of goals in the semifinal against Barcelona and final against Tottenham Hotspur, Divock Origi has become a cult hero for the club. He has already been labeled as one of Serie A’s worst signings of the season after leaving for AC Milan on a free transfer last summer.
Takumi Minamino, meanwhile, was so important to Liverpool’s domestic double last year but has struggled to re-establish himself as a leading man with AS Monaco after growing weary of a bit-part role at Anfield.
But in the case of this quartet, it was the Reds’ choice to end their Anfield careers. While Liverpool was happy to make a profit off of Shaqiri and Minamino, new contracts were not reached with Wijnaldum or Origi.
Thus, the Sadio Mane case is all the more puzzling. The Senegalese left Anfield for Bayern Munich in a £35 million deal last summer after deciding he wanted to move on and find a new challenge.
In reality, he helped Liverpool avoid a difficult choice when they were negotiating a new contract with Mohamed Salah, whose deal was set to expire in the summer of 2023.
In addition to a potential rocky relationship with Klopp, there had been rumors of animosity toward Mane’s status relative to the Egyptian. But a true Reds legend who scored 120 goals over six seasons and accomplished everything at Anfield, no one questioned the forward’s decision to move on.
The fact that Kopites turned away from some dubious remarks made by the Senegalese on his way to the exit door, which could have easily harmed relations for a less well-liked star, was due to his already legendary status, which is deserving of a statue.
When asked about his future prior to the Champions League final, he responded, “Honestly, I think the best answer I can give you right now is that I feel very good and I’m fully focused on the Saturday game. Come back to me on Saturday, though, and I’ll give you the response you want to hear without a doubt. It is unique. Then, I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
At the time, it was assumed he was referring to a fresh Reds contract. What else could Kopites possibly think is the “best answer,” “special,” and “what you want to hear”? But as rumors about Mane persisted, it soon became obvious that the forward hadn’t read the room. Or, at the very least, he was only speaking for his countrymen.
Following the Champions League final, he reported for international duty and said, “Like everyone else, I’m on social media and I see the comments. Don’t 60 to 70 percent of Senegalese want me to leave Liverpool, according to research?
“I’ll comply with their wishes. Don’t rush, we’ll see this together, and we’ll see it soon.”
He became a member of Bayern Munich’s roster less than three weeks later. And more than any other player, he has proven Klopp’s infamous warning to Coutinho correct by pulling off such a move.
The forward would at least get off to a good start, scoring on his debut in the DFL-Super Cup victory over RB Leipzig before scoring in his debut Bundesliga game against Eintracht Frankfurt. He would score five goals in his first six games for Bayern and 11 in his first 20.
However, as the World Cup drew near, he was already beginning to find himself being withdrawn early and coming and going from Bayern’s starting XI as they struggled to include him in their lineup. However, when used in either position in Bavaria, he appeared to be a square peg in a round hole. For Liverpool, he had primarily been an electric left winger, but during his final months at Anfield, Klopp had reinvented him as a central forward.
Mane would later be forced to undergo surgery for a leg injury, preventing him from competing in the World Cup and keeping the 31-year-old out of action until the end of February. Since his return, he has only registered one goal and has only started six of Bayern’s 14 matches. Last month, after Bayern lost to Manchester City 3-0 in the Champions League, he got into a heated argument with teammate Leroy Sane in the locker room.
It has since been reported that Mane has no future with Bayern after being suspended for a Bundesliga game against Hoffenheim after allegedly punching the German in the locker room. According to Sky Germany, the forward wants to leave the team and return to the Premier League, not Liverpool, most likely because of the forward’s £17.4 million yearly salary.
Florian Plettenberg, a Sky journalist, said: “Right now, this is not the Sadio Mane from Liverpool,” following Mane’s altercation with Sane. You can clearly see how the injury he sustained just before the World Cup in Qatar has affected him. He’s not as fast, he’s not very good at dribbling or tackling, and his body language is awful. He’s also not the same upbeat person.
“That Sane situation shocked the management and his teammates, and from what I understand, he will now be viewed negatively inside due to his actions and performances. Many players have distanced themselves from Mane because Thomas Tuchel has no real plans to work with him next season, he is a sale candidate in the summer, and he earns a high salary.”
Klopp’s warnings have once again come true. He was a legend at Liverpool but appears to have been shunned by Bayern. There won’t be any somber moments in Bavaria, and in all honesty, the Reds’ own struggles this season are the only thing keeping his decision to leave Anfield from being further examined.
It is telling that despite Mane appearing to be available for transfer, the Liverpool fan base does not have a strong desire to have him return to Anfield. They are aware that, at the age of 31, such a change would add to the Reds’ current transitional issues as Klopp looks to assemble his next squad.
At least at Anfield, Mane’s time has come and gone. While he will look for an Indian summer when he departs Bayern, his declining fortunes, along with Roberto Firmino’s as both players struggle with goals and availability, only serve to highlight why Liverpool managers have needed to overhaul their attack over the past 18 months.
It also serves as a reminder of the Reds’ excellent decision to put Salah’s renewal and continued status as Liverpool’s talisman ahead of the two.
The ‘Fab Four’ of Coutinho, Mane, Firmino, and Salah represented the Reds for half of the 2017 season. Their remaining attacking triumvirate, which was unstoppable, was the best in the years that followed.
But as he approaches the second-most productive season of his career in terms of goals and goal contributions after another 30-goal season, it is now only the Egyptian who is still aging like a fine wine. Such efforts, when compared to those of aging stars past and present, only serve to support the club’s position. It wasn’t a gamble, and it hasn’t turned out to be.
Mane will have departed from Liverpool in order to emerge from such a shadow and take center stage somewhere else. to relocate somewhere else where one can become “something more,” deserving of a statue, without taking center stage. He has utterly failed in Bavaria.
Salah himself can only speak to the extent to which Salah’s direct influence on his decision to leave Anfield was significant. However, his time at Bayern hasn’t gone as he had hoped, and this should serve as a lesson to the Reds’ upcoming departures.
It was, is, and will be nearly impossible to top such an experience elsewhere after winning everything while at the height of their powers on Merseyside. Their “something more” has already been Liverpool.
Regardless of whether the grass is indeed greener, Mane’s time in Bavaria has shown that he cannot have his cake and eat it too.