Martin King has Rousing the Kop’s annual end of season player review on Sadio Mané and what a season the Senegalese attacker has had in Red.
Before Jürgen Klopp’s first full season as manager of Liverpool began last summer, the German made a number of signings that were heavily scrutinised by fans and experts, even before the players kicked a ball.
The biggest of them all: Sadio Mané. The striker faced immediate judgement for a £34 million price tag and perhaps rather unfairly, the fact he was the fifth player in just three years to join Liverpool from fellow Premier League club Southampton.
However, what followed was a season that proved that the Senegalese striker was always ready to take the step up to a top club, as well as proudly uphold the transfer fee that made him the most expensive African player in history.
Super season for super Sadio
In more ways than one, the signing of Mané was indeed a dream come true.
Liverpool were in dire need of width in their squad, as a top quality winger had not been purchased ever since the departure of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City two seasons ago. For Klopp, that particular problem was solved by purchasing not just any top winger but one whom the Reds manager had been chasing for quite a number of years.
After putting pen to paper on a five-year contract as well as featuring in a number of pre-season matches, Mané made his competitive debut for Liverpool in their opening league match against Arsenal, introducing himself in spectacular fashion through a mesmerising solo goal to help his side win 4-3 at the Emirates Stadium.
By then it was already clear that the striker’s pace, strength and finishing ability were vital attributes to Klopp’s team and Mané would go on to display them consistently as part of a four-man gegenpressing strike-force of himself, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana.
By the mid-point of the season, the former Southampton man had netted nine goals and assisted four in the Premier League, however, with his native Senegal featuring in the African Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon, the striker left to represent them.
His importance to the Reds team was painfully re-emphasised to the Anfield faithful during this period, as Klopp’s men won just one match in all competitions in Mané’s absence, form which saw them drop out of two domestic cup competitions, as well as fade away from a Premier League title race which they held a strong presence in.
The 25-year-old’s return to the Liverpool line-up would see a good change in form, as his importance was yet again emphasised by four goals in three huge Anfield encounters for his side against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Everton.
Mané’s first season at the club may have been unexpectedly ended by injury, however, his overall contribution of 13 Premier League goals and five assists was outstanding and good enough to help Liverpool qualify for a place in the UEFA Champions League, which he will certainly feature in next season.
The former Southampton man’s season was crowned by a spot in the 2016/17 PFA Team of the Year, as well being the winner of Liverpool’s Player of the Season award.
As he works his way back to full fitness for pre-season, it can definitely be said that Mané’s first season at Liverpool has been an incredible success.
Not only has the player worked his way into the hearts of Reds fans thanks to his attacking contribution, the Senegalese striker has genuinely become one of Klopp’s most important players, meaning despite having his critics at the beginning of the season, it is now difficult to imagine the Liverpool team without Mané heading forward.
Despite consistent goal-scoring – which should come across as a harsh demand given that the number 19 is, after all, a winger – there are no notable improvements Mané would have to focus on making next season, he has been the perfect addition and more signings of his quality will definitely have to be made by his manager in order to make his second season at Anfield another success.