Friday 30 September 2016

Jurgen Klopp has staked his reputation on £34m-man Sadio Mane but can he keep his head?

Published 14/07/2016 | 12:34

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp (right) talks to Sadio Mane before the pre-season match last week
Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp (right) talks to Sadio Mane before the pre-season match last week

It seemed implausible that Southampton could cash their chips in on Sadio Mane to the tune of £34m for large chunks of last season, yet that mega-money transfer came to pass as he sealed his move to Liverpool last month.

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While Mane's raw talent has never been in doubt during his two-year stint in the Premier League with Southampton, his ability to do with all that comes with being a top level performer in the world's highest profile competition has been called into question at times.

Mane's final year at Southampton was a mix of the brilliant and the indifferent, with the start his season disrupted by reports that Manchester United had tabled a big money move to secure his services.

After United's chase for Barcelona star Pedro ended with the Spanish international opting to join Chelsea, Old Trafford chiefs leaked a story to the media suggesting the Manchester giants had turned their attentions to signing Mane.

United's implausible claims that they had 'decided' not to sign Pedro after a long chase for his services were complimented by spurious claims that they had made an offer to sign Mane.

The journalists used by United's confused PR machine to spread that rumour also had their reputations needlessly dented, with Southampton officials furious that their player had been used as a smokescreen to cover up another transfer calamity overseen by United CEO Ed Woodward.

The non-story also produced another inevitable consequence, with Mane's head turned by the prospect of swapping Southampton for Manchester United sparking a loss of focus for the Senegal forward.

"Sadio lost his way after all the Man Utd rumours and it took him a good while to get back on track," a Southampton insider told Independent.ie.

"There was never an offer for Sadio from United and not even any contact from them about the player.

"It felt like we were all used to get United out of a hole after they failed to get a player they were after and the whole story left a nasty taste.

"To his credit, Sadio got back on track after his dip in form and after being left out of the team at times, he finally got back to the level we know he is capable of."

Mane's talents have rarely been in dispute, with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp having watched the 24-year-old in action for Red Bull Salzburg during his time as Borussia Dortmund boss.

Back then, Mane was a raw talent striving to prove his worth in the game, yet he quickly became a target for the south coast club following Ronald Koeman's appointment as the club's manager.

As he blasted a hat-trick in Southampton's 6-1 rout of Aston Villa in May 2015, he set a new record for the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, with all three goals crashing into the Villa net in just two minutes and 56 seconds of thrilling action. It was an eye-catching moment that confirmed Mane's Premier League star was on the rise.

A somewhat shy kid who took time to find his voice in the Southampton dressing room and on the field in the Premier League, Mane's flashes of brilliance among the stars of English football cemented his reputation as one of the stars of the game.

He followed that up with some sparkling displays against the top clubs in the Premier League last season, yet some at Southampton suggest he was not as motivated to produce his best when the opposition lacked an A-list status.

Mane was at his brilliant best as he scored against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City last season, with his pace and dynamism seeing him promoted as a Champions League player in the making.

However, Southampton boss Koeman preferred Republic of Ireland forward Shane Long to Mane at times, with his failure to attend a team-meeting in January seeing him dropped by his furious manager.

"We have rules and he broke them, which is not acceptable," said Koeman at the time, yet this was not the first time Mane's time keeping had been called into question.

The incident in question was very much a misunderstanding rather than a clear act of defiance from Mane.

Koeman had moved the time of the team-meeting in question and Mane failed to get the message about the rescheduling, yet it was not for that incident alone that he was dropped to the bench.

Mane had been warned to improve his attitude in the weeks prior to the missed team meeting, yet his banishment was brief, as he was restored to the team by the end of the season and finished the campaign on a high.

Taskmaster Klopp will not accept any such dips in attitude from his big money buy at Anfield and yet while Mane is a player who oozes potential, the lavish fee paid to secure his services must be seen as a risk given his relative inexperience at the highest level.

Liverpool’s manager has staked his reputation on Mane shining at Anfield this season and the German tactician needs his first big money signing to deliver from day one in a red shirt.

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