Show me the Mané – are Liverpool right to splash the cash on Sadio Mané?
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on July 3, 2016
In Jürgen Klopp’s first summer transfer window as the manager of Liverpool, the German’s early business was not exactly the earth-shuddering signings that some had expected. It was logical, though, recruiting Loris Karius and Joel Matip: a pair of young talents plying their trade in the Bundesliga, where he himself cut his teeth, and adding to areas in dire need of addressing in the goalkeeping and defensive ranks, respectively.
Klopp’s third signing the summer for the Reds, however, is much more eye-catching – and a little more difficult to understand.
Liverpool and Southampton agreed a £34 million deal for Sadio Mané to join the former from the latter this week. The traditional end-of-season exodus of stand-out players from St. Mary’s now has another member in 2016, after Victor Wanyama’s departure to Tottenham Hotspur and their manager, Ronald Koeman, headed to the blue side of Merseyside.
Mané has undoubtedly been an integral part of the Saints’ pair of excellent seasons, averaging a goal every three games (25 in 75) since joining from Red Bull Salzburg in 2014 and scoring a team-best 15 goals in the 2015-16 season. Even so, £34 million is a large offer for a club outside of the Champions League to turn down, and Southampton will back their ability to re-invest that money wisely, like they have done so many times before.
However, should Liverpool have even considered handing over that amount of money for this player? Whilst the aforementioned statistics and various highlight reels like this one may suggest so, there are other factors that make me think Sadio Mané’s success at Anfield is far from a certainty.
He might even have a problem getting into the starting XI on a weekly basis, for a start – a staggering thought considering the amount of money on the table to make the deal happen. The majority of Mané’s time at Southampton was spent between the defensive and midfield lines of the opposition, operating behind a central striker. Either by design or when given the license to roam by his manager, Sadio is regularly popping up in wide positions as well as through the middle, supplying crosses and through balls as well as getting into the box himself when off the ball. That’s an attractive skill-set for a top side, but the problem is: Liverpool already have plenty of players with the same sort of footballing DNA.
Both Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana play very similar roles already for Klopp’s side, whilst the stand-out player for Liverpool following Luis Suarez’s departure, Phillipe Coutinho, also thrives when playing between the lines. Trying to fill up that area with another attacking midfielder will almost certainly stifle the potential influence that players like Coutinho and Mané can have on matches. It’s a nice problem to have, for sure, but there’s a lot of truth to that ‘too many cooks’ saying, and Liverpool have already had problems under Klopp’s reign with having a flood of creative players getting in each other’s way. Another option is to play Mané further forward as a central striking option, but this limits his effectiveness on the pitch and is far from ideal.
Finding a spot for Mané in the Liverpool team is one thing, but proving he deserves a place in the starting XI is a hurdle that he will have to overcome first. At his best, Mané is a lightning rod of a player, injecting pace and directness into an attacking setup, capable of producing match-winning moments out of nowhere. But, at his worst, the forward can be an unreliable personality, who does not react well to playing to the beat of somebody else’s drum. In February 2015, former Saints boss Koeman dropped Mané from his starting line-up, with the Senegalese player turning up late for a game against (funnily enough) Liverpool. Eleven months later it was a similar story, as the Saints player arrived late to a team meeting.
It’s not all smiles on the pitch, either. Whilst some stunning performances and hot streaks have made him a much-sought-after player, Mané is susceptible to dips in form, or looking a frustrated, disinterested figure when things are not going his way. For all the pieces of trickery you’ll stumble upon in Vines and GIFs, those moments of brilliances are often book-ended by frustrations – WhoScored’s Opta-powered data reports that Mané has had more ‘unsuccessful touches’ of the ball over the last two Premier League seasons than any other player. So much of Southampton’s play has been built around the influence of Mané, so I wonder if he would react well to sharing the spotlight with other play-makers, or even being relegated to the substitutes’ bench on occasion. Jürgen Klopp has carved a reputation out of building sides that are fully committed to the task at hand, and understand the importance of their role on and off the pitch. Statistics and stories such as these make it clear to me that Mané is far from the quintessential Klopp player.
Sadio’s style of play makes me think of him as a more focussed, clinical Yannick Bolasie. Whilst the two players possess similar levels of pace and flair, Mané is capable of channelling those abilities and turning them into results on the pitch much more regularly. Whilst being such a fast runner with the ball, Mané is able to make decisions just as quickly, allowing him to dribble in tight areas, find space in the box and unlock defences. His low centre of gravity makes him deceptively difficult to dispossess, and he has thrived in big matches against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool themselves.
It takes a lot more than that to be a leading performer at a title-chasing team, though, and the Sadio Mané needs to up his consistency, ball retention and even his time-keeping If he wants to become the next idol of the Kop.