'We have quality and can beat any team in the world' - Mané
Sadio Mané will have painted his home town red whatever the outcome of the Champions League final tomorrow.
Bambali, a small community in Senegal, will be swarming with the Liverpool jerseys Mané has dispatched direct from the club's training base at Melwood.
Ever since football brought him wealth and fame, the 26-year-old has been sending donations home.
He has done so with one stipulation: there should be no publicity. Ahead of the meeting with Real Madrid, he made an exception.
"I bought 300 Liverpool jerseys to send to the people in the village, so the fans can wear to watch the final," he revealed. "My family still live in the village and they are all going to be watching. Nobody in the village will work this day."
Bambali is not the only town or city in Africa sure to be backing Liverpool. Mané believes the dashing style of Jurgen Klopp's side makes them the neutrals' favourites everywhere but Madrid and a few corners of north-west England.
"I cannot say most of the world [is supporting Liverpool] because Real fans will say otherwise," he said. "Maybe everyone who is not a Real Madrid, Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City fan. I think everyone else would like to see Liverpool win."
Because of Liverpool's attacking play? "Yes. I am always honoured to play alongside these great players," he said. "People talk about the front three, but it is the whole team that makes us better."
There is one friend in particular who Mané will be thinking of when he steps out in Kiev. "Youssouph Diatta," he said, writing down the name. "I remember AC Milan v Liverpool [in 2005]. Three-nil down, then 3-3 and penalties. I was watching in my village and I remember being with my friend, a big friend of mine [Youssouph], and at 3-0 down he was completely out.
"He stopped watching until the end and ran like crazy to get away. Then he came back at the end and he could not believe it. Even to this day, he cannot believe it. He came back after the game when Liverpool had won!
"I spoke to him earlier this week. He is still in Senegal. He asked me this time do not be 3-0 down! I was not supporting Liverpool at this time. I was a Barcelona fan. If you had said then I would be playing the final, I would say it is something incredible in my life."
Mané admitted it was after Liverpool won in Porto in the last 16 - when he struck a hat-trick - that he started to believe.
"I was thinking, 'We can win'. It was a big night for me," he said. "I am just thinking, it is incredible, not about pressure. It is the best time for the whole squad to play. It is one of the most important of a career. It will not be easy. They have experience and are one of the best teams in the world, but we have quality and can beat any team in the world. We respect them as a great club in history, but Liverpool also has history."
It has been a year of rapid progress, but Mané expects Liverpool will get better. He is constantly contacting his friend, Naby Keita, who moves from RB Leipzig in July.
"I don't think he will come to the final, but of course he will watch the game. I am always texting him," he said. "He is my good friend. He said after we reached the final, 'Congratulations, I am looking forward to coming [to Liverpool]'. He will do great. He is a great player."
Mané will be returning to Bambali this summer. On his arrival, he hopes to unveil another special package. "I will be going back after the World Cup. Hopefully I will be showing everyone a [winner's] medal," he said.
© Independent News Service
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