When Sadio Mane equalised against Wolves on the final day of the Premier League season, it looked as though his goal on the way to a dramatic title win would be another chapter in his remarkable Anfield story.
We all know how it eventually played out: Manchester City pipped Jurgen Klopp’s side to the title by a single point after their remarkable comeback against Aston Villa.
Less than three weeks have passed since that fleeting moment when the quadruple was still possible and Mane looked on course to cement his status as one of the iconic figures in Liverpool history.
Sadio Mane has announced his intention to leave Liverpool for a new challenge this summer
Jurgen Klopp will be distraught that one of his main stars wants to walk away from Anfield
How things have changed since then.
Mane – just days before the Champions League final – set alarm bells off when he promised to give some answers about his future after the game in Paris.
As soon as those words came out of his mouth it was clear that he wanted to leave. If he was happy on Merseyside then he would have stayed silent and signed a new deal.
It is no secret that his contract – like Mohamed Salah’s – is due to expire next summer but there was always a sense that Mane would eventually commit the twilight years of his career to Jurgen Klopp.
But the feeling around Liverpool after the Real Madrid defeat went from dejection to devastation when news broke less than 24 hours after the full-time whistle that Mane wanted to bring his six-year stay to an end.
Mane told reporters in Senegal that he wanted out of Liverpool in a shameful press conference
He sighted his desire for a new challenge as the reason behind wanting to leave and Bayern Munich immediately emerged as the most likely destination. Liverpool will rightly hold firm for a figure that reflects Mane’s standing in world football but it seems inevitable that the Germans will pay it and he will leave.
Wanting a fresh start after winning everything possible in English football is absolutely fine. Nobody can deny Mane that. He deserves everything that comes his way after years of playing at the peak of his powers.
Before Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Salah and Fabinho walked through the door, Mane was Klopp’s first game-changing signing back in 2016 and has contributed 120 goals and 48 assists in 269 appearances.
But despite Salah and his agent publicly venting their frustration over contract talks in recent months, the Egyptian has always remained respectful and insisted he would be happy to see out his career on Merseyside.
Mane’s decision to leave has come from nowhere. He has also largely remained silent on his own contract negotiations, too. Now we know why.
Gutted Liverpool fans plead with Mane to stay during the club’s trophy parade last month
To make things worse, since signaling his intention to leave this summer Mane has showed zero loyalty and appreciation to the club and manager that made him a global star.
‘I respect the fans and team but 60 to 70 per cent of Senegalese want me to leave Liverpool? I’ll do what they want,’ he told reporters last week in a shameful press conference while away with Senegal on international duty.
When asked if he would prefer a move to Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, he then followed it up with: ‘You know, you’ve got me in trouble with the Liverpool fans right now.
‘Those two teams are not bad. But I’m not a fan of those teams. You know, my team is Marseille, so I would say Marseille.’
That is what leaves a bitter taste. He has instantly disregarded the affection of fans and cannot hide his desperation to leave.
Unlike Mane, Mohamed Salah has always remained loyal to the club during contract talks
Whether Mane would stay at Anfield if Liverpool could afford the wages on offer at Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern or Real Madrid is unknown.
Chairman Tom Werner said before the 1-0 defeat by Real Madrid that Liverpool want to keep both of their star men but the club won’t compromise the principles of their sporting project that have taken them to where they are now.
Georginio Wijnaldum was a crucial piece of Liverpool’s rise to becoming European and Premier League champions but he was allowed to leave last summer after failing to agree a new deal.
Salah has insisted he will be at Liverpool next season but the club and player are no closer to agreeing terms on a new deal. Losing both inside 12 months would be a huge blow to Klopp.
Things are not gloomy at Anfield, though. Far from it. Salah was the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner, the January arrival of Luis Diaz has already added a new dimension to Liverpool’s attack and Diogo Jota’s goal-scoring record is outrageous.
Mane has won everything possible at Liverpool but the manner of his exit leave a bitter taste
The future is also bright with Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho ready to make their mark on the first team next season.
But Mane’s exit and the fact that Roberto Firmino’s powers are waning will no doubt force Liverpool into the transfer market for a forward, particularly with Divock Origi leaving and Takumi Minamino also expected to go.
Completing the signing of £85million-rated Darwin Nunez from Benfica – providing he transfers his red-hot form in Portugal to the Premier League – will help soften the blow of losing Mane.
Klopp and Liverpool’s recruitment department – now led by new sporting director Julian Ward – have proven time and time again that they know how to get it right in the transfer market.
Now we must hope that Nunez is the right man to take Mane’s place in the front line – and hopefully steal his spot in the pantheon of Liverpool legends that once looked set to be his.