It didn’t take Liverpool fans long to fall in love with Sadio Mane, and so it may take a little while for them to get over his departure.
The Senegalese thrilled supporters and terrorised defenders during six glorious, trophy-filled years on Merseyside. He leaves as a bona fide Anfield legend, ready for a new challenge in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich.
At £35 million ($43m), he was viewed as something of a gamble when arriving from Southampton in the summer of 2016, but he would turn out to be Jurgen Klopp’s first great Reds signing, the catalyst for a magnificent era of success.
- 'I don't think it's sunk in that I'm a Liverpool player' - Reds star Missy Bo Kearns is living the dream
- Fantasy Premier League 2022-23: Tips, best players, rules, prizes & guide to FPL game
- Palmer, Kayky, Delap and the Man City wonderkids who could follow in Foden's footsteps
- 'Is football coming home?' Why England's Lionesses can win the UEFA Women's Euros
He leaves behind countless memories, his legacy as one of the great Liverpool players of the modern era secure and ready to be passed down the generations.
Gamble? Bargain, more like!
Perhaps the best goal Mane ever scored for Liverpool came on his Premier League debut for the club, away at Arsenal.
Chasing a hopeful ball into the right-hand channel, he was too quick and too agile for Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers, jinking between the two defenders and into the penalty area, where he unleashed a ferocious left-footed strike into the top right-hand corner of Petr Cech’s net.
Jurgen Klopp’s reaction said it all, the manager almost ordering Mane to jump on his back on the sideline. Liverpool won 4-3, and talk of Mane’s transfer fee was wiped out in an instant.
Mane’s first Merseyside derby saw him grab a 94th-minute winner at Goodison Park in December 2016.
It was a simple enough goal, reacting quickest to tap home after Daniel Sturridge’s shot had come back off the post, but it produced some iconic photographs as the Senegal star and his team-mates celebrated in front of an ecstatic away end, red smoke filling the winter air.
Mane’s record in derbies was good. He scored four times and lost only once in 13 appearances against the Toffees, but it is that first encounter which Liverpool fans sing about every time the festive period rolls around.
‘Merry Christmas, Everton.’
Spurs shot down
Mane’s first season at Liverpool ended prematurely due to injury, and was disrupted by the Africa Cup of Nations.
And yet he still finished it as the Reds’ Player of the Year, his performances having helped power Klopp’s side to Champions League qualification.
One of his most important came against Tottenham in February 2017. Liverpool had stuttered while he was at AFCON, failing to win any of their previous five league games and exiting both the FA Cup and League Cup for good measure.
But against their top-four rivals - Spurs were second at the time - Mane ensured they got back on track. He scored both goals in the Reds’ 2-0 win, the pair of them arriving in the space of 138 seconds in the first half.
Stunning the Allianz
Mane has already made his mark in Munich, and at the Allianz Arena.
When Liverpool rocked up there for the second leg of a Champions League last-16 tie in March 2019, they were under pressure. Bayern Munich had dug out a goalless draw at Anfield and were fancied to finish the job on home soil.
But 26 minutes in, Virgil van Dijk sent a ball over the top and Mane did the rest. His first touch was sublime, his second sent Manuel Neuer for a half-time pie, and his third was clipped sublimely into the far corner, splitting two covering defenders perfectly.
Liverpool went on to win 3-1, Mane finishing the scoring with a close-range header. On they went, all the way to Madrid, where they would beat Tottenham to win their sixth European Cup.
Another late winner, and one which stands out as vital when the story of Liverpool’s 2019-20 Premier League title win is told.
On a cold November afternoon, Klopp’s side struggled against newly-promoted Aston Villa. With four minutes remaining they trailed 1-0, while Manchester City were beating Southampton and about to close to within three points of the Reds, ahead of a top-of-the-table showdown at Anfield the following weekend.
Then came the drama. Then came Mane. First, he clipped in a cross which Andy Robertson headed in to equalise. Then, in the final minute of added-time, he was quicker than anyone, braver than anyone, to glance home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner at the near post.
The away end bounced like never before. Liverpool beat City the following weekend - more on that come - and would eventually win the title at a canter.
The momentum they gained that day in the Midlands, however, should never be understated.
When Pep Guardiola suggested, in typically condescending fashion, that Mane was “a special talent” who was guilty of “sometimes diving”, he had no idea how quickly, and how literally his words would come back to haunt him.
A few days later, Guardiola was grimacing on the Anfield sideline as Manchester City were swept aside by a Liverpool team who were bludgeoning their way to the title.
It finished 3-1, Mane grabbing the Reds’ third goal in front of the Kop…with a diving header.
Point made. Points taken. It was one of seven goals Mane managed for Liverpool against City. Only against Crystal Palace (10) did he score more.
The Knockout King
They say the best players show up in the biggest games, and in that respect Mane’s record stands comparison with anyone’s.
Nobody in Liverpool’s history has scored more goals in Champions League knockout ties than he has. He managed 15 in total, delivering against the likes of Bayern, Porto, RB Leipzig, Manchester City, Roma, Benfica, Villarreal and, in the 2018 final, Real Madrid.
Were it not for Thibaut Courtois’ brilliance, he’d have done the same in 2022 as well.
He also scored that derby winner, netted seven times against Manchester City and Arsenal, six against Chelsea - including twice in the 2019 European Super Cup final win - and in the FA Cup semi final back in April.
Throw in his heroics for Senegal and the picture becomes clear. The bigger the stage, the more likely he was to thrive on it.
The famous front three
When this Liverpool era is remembered, it will be remembered as the era of Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, for sure.
In five seasons together, those three produced an incredible 338 goals, including 91 in the 2017-18 campaign alone.
In total, they started 137 games together, and in 104 of those, at least one of them scored. There were 15 matches in which all three netted, including memorable victories over Manchester City and Roma in 2018, and most recently the 5-0 win at Watford last October.
They didn’t always combine perfectly - witness Mane’s angry reaction to Salah at Burnley in 2019 - but together they were something special. With Firmino the selfless, roaming No.9, Mane and Salah were able to make the jump from talented-but-inconsistent wingers to elite, free-scoring wide forwards.
Both have zoomed past 100 Liverpool goals, and both shared the Premier League Golden Boot award in 2019. Four times in the last five years, Mane reached 20 goals in all competitions, having only done so once in his career previously - all the way back in 2014.
To excel in one position at a club like Liverpool is something, but to do so in three is the mark of a special talent.
Mane’s first year on Merseyside was as a right-winger. He scored 13 goals and won the Player of the Year award. Then Salah arrived from Roma, meaning he switched to the left. He responded with the best years of his career, establishing himself as one of the world’s premier forwards.
And all the time, there was a superb, line-leading No.9 just waiting to be unleashed. Mane played there occasionally, and often moved there when Klopp shifted his system when chasing a game, but it was in the second half of the 2021-22 campaign that we saw just how effective he can be as a centre-forward.
The perfect blend of technique, speed, desire and physicality, he bullied defences with strength and subtlety, scored goal after goal and provided countless moments and touches which took the breath away - such as his assist for Salah against Manchester United in April.
“What a player!” marvelled Klopp after that.
Mane the man
When Mane scored Liverpool’s second goal in a 7-0 win at Crystal Palace in December 2020, you would have been forgiven for missing the significance of his celebration.
For Reds fan Lee Swan, however, it meant everything.
Mane had met Lee through a campaign run by Nivea, one of Liverpool’s sponsors, aimed at recognising and rewarding community heroes.
During their chat - conducted on Zoom due to the ongoing pandemic - Mane promised that the next time he scored, he would perform a celebration of Lee’s choice. Lee requested that he kissed his hand and pointed skywards, in memory of his late grandfather.
Mane kept his promise at Palace, and repeated it at Anfield against West Brom a few days later.
It summed him up. A wonderful footballer, for sure, but more importantly a kind-hearted person, who made a positive impression on everyone he met during his six years on Merseyside.