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'I had to run away to achieve my dream - my family would not help me' - Sadio Mane

Senegal's Liverpool hero Mane is saving lives in his home village by building a new hospital

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Liverpool striker Sadio Mane celebrates one of his many goals at Anfield. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Liverpool striker Sadio Mane celebrates one of his many goals at Anfield. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Liverpool striker Sadio Mane celebrates one of his many goals at Anfield. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Liverpool striker Sadio Mane is building a hospital. That seems as good a place as any to start an interview in a week when politicians are asking what footballers are doing for healthcare.

Mane has already built a school, to encourage maths and literacy, which is worth referencing in case a future news cycle includes a debate about Premier League stars "playing their part".

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Mane on a recent visit home to his native Senegal.

Mane on a recent visit home to his native Senegal.

Mane on a recent visit home to his native Senegal.

He tours the construction sites of the projects he funds in his home village of Bambali during the documentary film 'Made in Senegal' - to be broadcast free on Rakuten TV today. It is a rare insight into the philanthropy that Mane has previously tried to hide and, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, feels more timely than the producers could have ever imagined when filming.

This correspondent can vouch for Mane's hitherto reticence to publicise his charity work, having been politely asked to omit details after an interview in 2018.

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In the interest of balance, it also seems fair to start by asking why he has decided to publicise it now.

"Yes, football is my job, but sometimes not always football. I do think we are kind of role models. So sometimes these things are important to help people. It is important to show a good image and help," says Mane, speaking via a video link.

"Sometimes I do not like to talk so much about what I am doing, but it is really important to me. I see the people need this kind of help. Sometimes in Africa, the village can get forgotten, so when I had success I was really ready to help them. You can see how the people really need it.

"Education is particularly important so I think I should do my best to help.

"I really wanted the fans to see my village, where I have come from and what is possible if you really believe in yourself. It is a chance for people to know me off the pitch and something about my life."

Naturally, there are grave concerns about the coronavirus situation, Mane being in regular contact with family and friends at home to seek reassurance about how Bambali is coping in the pandemic.

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"Everyone has to do their best to stay strong and hopefully everything will be back to normal soon," he says.

The hospital is a deeply personal endeavour. When Mane was seven his father was taken ill with severe stomach pains. There was no medical care. He was informed of his father's death while playing football.

Mane's subsequent story, chronicled in the film, is one of escape and reconnection. As a teenager, he fled to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, against the wishes of his family, devout religious leaders in Bambali who felt the legacy of Mane senior would not be honoured in football.

Sadio recognised his talent could change his life and that of those around him.

"It was not an easy decision. It was tough. You want to achieve your dream and you see no one supports you, especially your family members.

"Nothing could be harder than that. I was just thinking, 'I am wasting my time because football success is only in my imagination'. But I knew it was the only job where I could bring success and help my family.

"The question in my mind at that time was always, 'How?'. I felt really far from the capital, Dakar, and it was really complicated. To be a football player you had to be there, not in my village.

"So when I was old enough, the best decision for me was to run away to achieve my dream because I knew my family would not help me. They wanted me to study and be a teacher.

Dreaming

"Fortunately, there was one person in the village who helped me and I had my friends, so we took the best decision - to run to Dakar.

"I was dreaming as a young boy and feeling far away from football. That is why I ran away. My family has forgiven me now. But at the beginning it was not easy."

There are moments in the documentary when the expectations upon Mane appear overwhelming.

On Merseyside, he is able to live in relative seclusion and serenity away from match-days, in contrast to when he returns to his home country.

He is accused by some fans of failing to produce his Liverpool form in a Senegal shirt, while the wish for him to become African Player of the Year seems to take the form of a demand rather than a request. He achieved that earlier this season.

"Every summer I go back to see my family. It is not easy for them, too, because there is a lot of pressure," Mane says.

"Everyone in the village supports Liverpool and they wanted me to be successful and win the Champions League. So when I went back there they could celebrate.

"When I was young my hero was El Hadji Diouf and he won [African Player of the Year]. It was my dream to win it one day. In the last three years I was really close, in third, second and second, because Mo Salah was on fire.

"But they all told me I had the quality to win it and never stopped supporting and pushing me, so I wanted to make sacrifices to win this."

Prior to the halt in football, Mane was also one of the favourites to be the Professional Footballers' Association and Football Writers' Association player of the year.

"Thank you," he giggles. "Honestly, I do not know. It is a bit early to speak about. Winning the league is more important but if people think I deserve it, I will take it.

"For sure, I would love to restart the season as soon as possible and win those two games that would win us the title.

"I think everything will be fine and I am not worried about that situation at the moment. I have to let other people deal with that and make sure it is the best decision for everyone. What is most important is that we want to win the league in safe conditions.

"It is a difficult moment for all football players and supporters around the world. It is part of life and something we have to deal with."

Messages

For now, private training sessions, box sets and WhatsApp messages are occupying the minds of players as much as fans.

"It is tough without football but I am not bored," Mane says. "I train, I have a friend here so we can play a little tennis. Jurgen Klopp keeps sending messages and we have a large WhatsApp group with the players staying in good spirits."

Any film recommendations?

"I was watching a movie 'Queen of the South' - it's about a drug dealer! I am also watching 'Money Heist'."

The true story of the footballer donating vast amounts to save and change lives in his home village is worth a watch, too. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

'Made In Senegal' is available from today free on Rakuten TV


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