Tuesday 22 January 2019

Mane: It's always better to be playing attacking football

Liverpool's Sadio Mane. Photo: PA
Liverpool's Sadio Mane. Photo: PA

Chris Bascombe

Sadio Mane offers a quizzical look when the inevitable style issue is raised ahead of Liverpool's trip to Manchester United.

Once you have played for an attacking manager like Jurgen Klopp, could you imagine adjusting to the conservative approach that typifies Jose Mourinho's recent meetings with Liverpool?

"Don't you prefer to watch attacking football, too? It is more enjoyable," Mane responds.

"For sure. I prefer Liverpool. The way we play is good for all of our players.

"It is not just me who would think like that. But you have to respect a different strategy. Not everyone can play the same way. I would prefer to play for and against an attacking team, but I am now used to playing against defensive teams. Most play that way against us now.

"I have played in a defensive formation - I had to learn this way when I was at an academy in Senegal - so it is not a problem, but for me it was always better to play attacking football. For other players, maybe it is different.

"If they defend deep it can be good for us. It means we keep the ball and make them run more. We can bring a high tempo to the game and it is difficult for teams to defend for 90 minutes. But I am not sure they (United) will not defend at Old Trafford.

"They are a big club and they need to win. They have the quality to attack, so why not?"

Since Mane is a devotee of the TV show Game of Thrones the temptation to characterise this weekend's chief protagonists at Old Trafford is irresistible.

"Which character would be Jurgen Klopp and which Jose Mourinho?" he is asked.

Mane shudders at the thought before giggling uncontrollably for the next minute. "No, no. I can't say that, sorry," he laughs.

Mane is not biting. He is too polite, and shrewd, foreseeing the headlines.

This becomes a theme of the conversation. Each time Mane believes he is appearing discourteous or too self-complimentary there is a pause, followed by a request to ensure this is not the case.

So he baulks at the idea there are mitigating circumstances for early season loss of form; sounds relieved about the post-Coutinho demise of the "fab four" sound-bite believing it disrespectful to team-mates worthy of the same credit as the attackers; and while he admits his wealth from football gives him a chance to fulfil a mission to directly help those in his Senegal village, Bambali, he does so reluctantly as he does not believe this worthy of attention or public praise.

"The best thing you can do is remember your home town," he says. "They need help and if I can, I do. That is important to me. I will always think about them. I feel strongly about this.

"I think all of Senegal supports Liverpool now. Before it was Manchester United, Barcelona and Madrid. Now they like Liverpool more. The people in Senegal like me so I am happy."

Mercifully, there are exceptions to this unrelenting humility, such as when Mane suggests he is faster than team-mate Mo Salah, albeit with another chuckle.

"We need to have a sprint. I am not sure he is quicker than me. I am pleased he is in our team because we have speed all the time," he says. There is also self-assurance when considering the "sliding doors" moment which could have put the striker in a Manchester United jersey today.

United's manager at the time, Louis van Gaal, called Mane directly in the summer of 2015, and held regular meetings with his agent. Rather than push for a move, the striker sensed another opportunity would come.

"I know Louis van Gaal liked me," says Mane. "But at the time he was interested Southampton wanted a lot of money. I spoke with Southampton and they did not want to sell at that time. But when Liverpool came for me it was more interesting.

"I knew Klopp's system was always attacking from when he was at Dortmund. He could have changed it for a different league, but for me it was the right coach and right club."

Mane hopes this weekend's trip to Manchester is more enjoyable than his last.

A 37th-minute red card at The Etihad in September led to a lengthy period when he was unrecognisable from the club player of year last season. The common perception is he has struggled, despite scoring 14 goals, one more than a year ago, and delivering six assists, also one more than 2016-17.

He accepts the observation. "Honestly, this has not been an easy season for me," he says. "There were some injuries and the red card at City. I was not happy that day because we lost 5-0 and if it had been 11 v 11 it would not have been 5-0.

"It was possible for us to get a good result, but everything in the game changed and that was the problem. Two games later I was injured and then I missed many games. That is not easy for any player."

Klopp thinks an incident against Everton in December - Mane missed from close range when an easy pass was the better option - damaged his confidence.

"No, no. It was not because of that," he says. "I should have made a better decision but that did not affect me. Do not forget I was on the bench before then. This can happen to any player, you have to accept it. It is not something I like to talk too much about because, really, all you can do is work harder to change the situation."


Mane's recent form has been encouraging. Between them, Liverpool's front three already have 68 goals this season. In the club's extraordinary history, the aggregate total of the club's top three scorers has never gone beyond 78 in a single campaign - and that was in the old second division in the early Sixties.

"I enjoy playing alongside these great players, but do not forget those behind us," says Mane. "Everyone is talking about the front three - lucky for us - but there are others who make it easier for us.

"People ask about the three in attack and we heard about the 'fab four' before that, but we did not like (it)."

The recent Champions League hat-trick in Porto that made this week's second leg little more than a training session reaffirmed Klopp's assertion "Sadio is back".

"All the players signed the match ball. Some of them wrote funny messages," says Mane, giggling again. "Gini Wijnaldum just put on 'you were lucky.'"

The modesty returns.

"I was lucky. You know how it is in football. I scored an open goal and a mis-hit, but that was my day. All the chances I had I put in," he says.

"I have a special place for the match ball in the house. I have kept it with other good memories, but these are for when I am finished playing."

Mane will be aiming to add to the collection at Old Trafford.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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