Everybody dreams. We imagine a better future. There are dreams that are easier to fulfill, others more complicated and others unrealistic. Future of triumph and success. For a boy from Bambali, Senegal, those dreams were a way out, an escape, from a humble childhood to an unimaginable future. From Senegal to England. From being the best in the only football field of his village to the spotlight of the great stage of world football: Anfield. This is the story of the overcoming of a boy who left Senegal for France with his origin and his people marked on his skin. The importance of not forgetting, of always remembering, of dreaming and being grateful. Sadio Mané.
In the city of Sédhiou in the south of Senegal, there is a small village called Bambali. There, on that land on the banks of the river Casamanza, Sadio Mané was born on 10 April 1992. The son of an imam father who runs the only mosque in the village, Mané’s dream was to become a footballer, but the imam’s son always has to set a good example and football, for his family, was not one of them.
“Where I was born to be a footballer you have to sacrifice everything” Sadio Mané
Sadio’s childhood was not easy. In addition to the humility of living in his village, there was also a fatal family outcome. When Sadio was seven years old, he lost his father. The imam fell ill and as they had no means or hospital in the village they tried to cure him with traditional medicine for months. Seeing that he was not getting better, they tried to transfer him to the hospital in the nearest town but he could not overcome the illness and Mané’s father died miles away from his village. It was an event that marked Sadio, gave him a new perspective and confirmed his main dream: to be a footballer and give his family and his people a better life.
The boy who in his childhood got up at seven in the morning to work in the fields with his uncle and on the way used any object, even stones, to hit them with his bare feet because of his love for football knew that his destiny was on the ball.
Mané, who was called Ballonbuwa (the magician of the ball) in his village, was the best footballer in the region. He soon stood out in the team of his village and was outgrown in some games where if the boys didn’t have a ball they used a grapefruit or any object they could think of as a ball. The point was to play football. It was fun.
Sadio wanted to be a footballer and his dream was to go to the capital of Senegal, Dakar, to try out for the country’s top team or to try out at the various football academies there. But he was hampered by his mother, who wanted him to concentrate on his studies and forget about football.
One day, when Mané was fifteen years old, he took a backpack, put all his clothes and equipment to play football, got on a bus to Dakar and only told his best friend about it. More than 70 km separate his village in the south of Senegal from the country’s capital. Twelve hours of travel through Gambia, the country that divides Senegal.
He stayed for two weeks and was taken in by a family friend of an acquaintance in the village. His family found out a week later and sent him back a fortnight later, but Mané had already made his mark in Dakar and had sown the seeds of his footballing career: he knew he could do it. That’s why he agreed to return to his family if they would let him try out for an academy again the following year. Her mother had to give in.
The following year Sadio returned to Dakar. This time it was a one-way road and so it was. He auditioned at one of the most famous academies in Senegal, the Generation Foot academy. There Sadio was waiting for his turn when one of the academy’s chief scouts was surprised by the boy’s attire and asked ‘Are you here for the tryout’ to which Sadio replied in the affirmative. The scout was surprised by the clothes he was wearing: worn out football shoes, torn and old trousers and asked him ‘With those clothes can you play?’ and the boy answered “I’ve come with the best I have, I just want to play and show myself”.
And it showed. In the first game he played he scored four goals and the scout, who had doubted him, was the first to decide to pick him. The first step had been achieved. He had entered the academy. From there, his football career took off until the present day.
Mané lasted six months at Generation Foot. It took Oliver Perrin, scout of French Ligue 1 side Metz, to sign him for his club. Oliver, tells in Made in Senegal, the documentary available on RAKUTEN TV, that as soon as he saw Mané steal the ball in his own half, dribble past all the defenders in his path and instead of scoring himself, give it to his team’s striker to score, he had no hesitation at all. That boy from Senegal had all the conditions to succeed in football. So he made Sadio an offer, and within a year of leaving his hometown he was flying to France to fulfil his dream.
It was hard for this boy from a village in Senegal to land in a dark, grey and rainy France in the middle of January 2011. His start was not easy. In Mane’s first game, Oliver, who was in the stands, noticed something strange about the way he played. He wasn’t the Sadio who had impressed him in Dakar, he wasn’t that tireless lion. Halfway through the game Mané was substituted, left the pitch, went to the dressing room and burst into tears. He had been playing for more than half a game with a thigh injury in his right leg but stayed in the game because he didn’t want to let anyone down after his signing.
“I was afraid they would regret it and I would have to go back to Africa,” Mané said years later about that moment. Because he carries on his shoulders the weight of responsibility he put on himself when he was in Bambali and decided to become a footballer to give a better life to the people he cares about. That’s why every time he steps out on the pitch for him it’s an opportunity to show his gratitude and one he doesn’t waste.
That injury, which looked like a muscle injury , almost ended Mané’s career. The doctors detected a hernia and he had to undergo surgery. Mané spent eight long months recovering. For a guy who had just landed on a new continent and at his first professional football club, it was a tough pill to swallow. But Mané never gave up hope. He always believed in himself, worked to get back and his return was the start of a succession of successes that would take him to Anfield.
It didn’t take him long to earn a starting place at Metz, where he was known as “crazy boy” by his team-mates because he was always laughing and having fun on the pitch. As did his childhood idol , Ronaldinho. Mane broke the chains and started playing in France like he played in the Bambali camp, like a lion unleashed. Mané enjoyed playing and made the fans enjoy it.
Sadio soon began to show signs of his qualities. Vertical, fast, persistent, hard-working and with a work ethic difficult to see in professional football. He also had an unquestionable technical quality and the ability to shoot with either leg. Mané had and has everything. And so he began to stand out.
From France he jumped to Austria. To RB Salzburg. There he started scoring goals. In two years he won everything there and scored 45 goals. Sadio was already a reality and he did not go unnoticed by European eyes. Klopp wanted him during his time at Borussia Dortmund but it would take a little longer for the German and the Senegalese to cross paths. Everything led to England. And there went Mané. South of England. To Southampton.
Two seasons were spent at The Saints and two were the highlights of Sadio’s career there. First, the fastest hattrick in the history of the premiership. It took him 176 seconds to score three goals against Aston Villa in 2015.
And secondly, the one that surely took him to Anfield: that historic Saints comeback against Klopp’s first Liverpool. Mané started from the bench on 20 March 2016. Liverpool went into the break with a 0-2 lead with goals from Sturridge and Coutinho and then Southampton manager Ronald Koeman brought on Mané at the start of the second half. Mané did not start well, shortly after entering had the opportunity to cut the score from the penalty spot but missed it. But if Sadio has anything it is that power of conviction and reaction. The miss didn’t weigh him down, it drove him on and just before the end he scored two goals in twenty minutes to tie the game. The Saints would eventually turn the scoreline around with the third and goal of the comeback by Italian Pellé but already Mané had just made a name for himself in front of Liverpool fans.
No one at Liverpool could forget that game or Mané’s performance. Nor would Klopp forget how impressed he was when he played against him at RB Salsburg and the Anfield side swooped for him. Over 40 million was paid by Liverpool for their new number 10, Sadio Mané in 2016. And to this day, and for all that he has given them, Mané came cheap for Liverpool. With him as top scorer, the Merseyside side won their first Premier League in 30 years and returned to reign in Europe with the 2019 Champions League.
Six months were enough for him to leave Africa and make a name for himself in Europe. Two years from France to Austria. Another two from Austria to England. And another two to make the leap to Liverpool. One of the most meteoric careers in world football. And a hard-earned career thanks to Mané’s hard work and dedication.
Beyond football: A legacy
Mané is much more than a footballer. From the day he took the plane to Europe he never forgot his origin or his people. Since then Mané has always been involved in bringing a better life to his family and his people.
“¿Why would I want ten Ferraris, 20 diamond watches or two airplanes? What would these objects do for me and for the world??” said the Liverpool player. “I’m not going to use my money to buy a Ferrari, I will help my people.”
In his village Mané financed the construction of a hospital, a school (he has always stressed to the youngest children on his visits to Senegal how important it is to study) and a mosque. He also dedicates a part of his monthly salary to pay each family in his village. Nor does Mané forget how important his mother and uncle were to his childhood and to his destiny as a footballer. He built them a house and made his uncle quit his job in the fields to take a job as a haulier that Sadio himself got for him.
In Senegal it is an institution. In the world an example. In the era of marketing and advertising, Sadio moves in the background, demonstrating with facts how important it is not to forget your origin and to have a responsibility about the role you play in society.