As Sadio Mane’s £35m move to Bayern Munich nears completion, it is difficult for Liverpool fans to have too harsher sentiment towards a player who has given them six years of unparalleled success and scintillating attacking memories.
From the moment he signed in 2016 from Southampton, the Senegalese has been one of Jurgen Klopp’s stars – perhaps, for longevity, the star – amid an Anfield rebuild which will go down in history.
Mane more than played his part. 120 goals tells its own tale. Yet while the 30-year-old will undoubtedly leave a void, Darwin Nunez has some big shoes to fill. But analysing from a career perspective – is this actually a wise decision?
Sadio Mane has decided to leave Liverpool and will join Bayern Munich in a £35m deal
Yet history shows star players have problems impressing after leaving life under Jurgen Klopp
Be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes. While Mane contributed to making Liverpool a juggernaut of European football once more, conversely it should not be forgotten what the Reds and Klopp have done for the Senegalese and his stardom.
SADIO MANE AT LIVERPOOL
Trophies: 6 (Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup,Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup
Because over six years, Mane went from a hot attacking prospect to one of the deadliest forwards in world football.
His double at the Allianz Arena against new employers Bayern in the magical 2019 Champions League run was one such example amongst a plethora of attention-grabbing, match-winning moments.
With his raw pace and work ethic, Mane was perfectly suited to Klopp’s high-press, high-energy philosophy of football, forming a deadly trio on and off the ball alongside Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.
And even with the arrivals of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz in recent years, Mane was near-enough always a cemented starter.
But now, he has packed all that in for a new challenge in Germany, at a European giant who has won their domestic title in 10 out of the last 10 years.
So the first question to ask: is this really a challenge for a player of Mane’s stature?
But, more importantly, why risk a decline in notoriety when growth was still possible? Because the evidence of players leaving Klopp’s changing room is that, usually, it has not worked out.
The first significant departure of Klopp’s era was, undoubtedly, Philippe Coutinho’s £142m move to Barcelona in January 2018.
In a season which would be game-changing for Liverpool as they surprisingly reached the Champions League final, the Reds lost their Brazilian playmaker, six months after he made it apparent that his heart was in Catalunya.
While the Reds used the cash to sign Virgil van Dijk, Coutinho struggled at the Nou Camp. He was originally injured for three weeks and, ultimately, never hit the heights promised.
Philippe Coutinho left Liverpool to join Barcelona in 2018 but never recaptured his stellar form
After scoring against Man Utd in the Champions League in April 2019, Coutinho put his fingers to his ears in response to a spate of fan criticism. A few weeks after that, Coutinho and Co bottled a three-goal lead in the semi-finals against his former club Liverpool and, a few months after that, he was shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich.
Yet the real ignominy for Barca was to come, as Coutinho scored twice against his parent club during the infamous 8-2 European quarter-final in 2020, as the Brazilian won the Champions League, albeit as a bit-part player.
Coutinho’s Barca career never fully recovered. He was taken by former team-mate Steven Gerrard on loan at Aston Villa before a permanent deal was signed a few weeks back, as he looks to get his career back on track and with a World Cup in the offing in November.
Coutinho thought he could reach stratospheric heights without Liverpool but, with a Champions League in 2019 and Premier League a year later, it turned out Liverpool reached the highest of highs without Coutinho.
One of Coutinho’s most humbling nights in a Barca shirt came at the hands of Liverpool in 2019
In the same year of Coutinho’s departure, Germany international Emre Can also decided to explore options away from Merseyside.
The powerful midfielder – a favourite under Klopp – decided to let his contract run down and made his final appearance for Liverpool as a late substitute in the 2018 Champions League final loss to Real Madrid.
He joined Juventus in a five-year, €5m-a-season deal – figures that could not be matched at Anfield.
After playing 29 times in a Serie-A winning side, Can quickly fell out of favour under Maurizio Sarri and was left out of the side’s Champions League squad a season later.
A loan move, followed by a permanent deal, to Borussia Dortmund has somewhat revitalised his career but it would be understandable if he wasn’t asking himself: would I have been better off at Liverpool?
Emre Can – who was a favourite of Klopp’s – decided to let his contract run down at Anfield
He joined Juventus in a five-year, €5m-a-season deal but quickly fell out of favour
The third highest-profile example is more recent, with Gini Wijnaldum leaving last summer, also upon the expiration of his contract.
With Barcelona and PSG the suitors, the Dutchman opted for the Qatari-backed French side in a summer when they stunned world football and signed Lionel Messi.
Yet despite starting 22 of 38 Ligue 1 games – in a comfortable title triumph – Wijnaldum underperformed and admitted himself he wasn’t ‘completely happy’ with his role at the Parc des Princes.
He was left out of the most recent Holland squad by Louis van Gaal and was named Ligue 1’s ‘Flop of the Year’ by Get French Football News, after 100,00 votes were cast and GFFN experts were consulted, with Wijandlum winning by a ‘wide margin.’
While there is still time for Wijnaldum to turn his time in Paris around, it is hardly an ideal start, and occurred in a season when Liverpool were vying for a historic quadruple – a feat they fell just two matches short of.
Gini Wijnaldum joined PSG last year but was voted Ligue 1’s ‘Flop of the Year’ a few weeks ago
So, the warning signs for Mane are omnipresent. While the likes of Danny Ings, Dominic Solanke and Harry Wilson have all impressed since leaving Anfield, there are also lower-profile cases of players struggling post-Klopp, such as Rhian Brewster, Mamadou Sakho and Danny Ward.
Klopp has a habit of making stars out of players through his own coaching ability and imperious man-management. Mane will be going to a team who has already won it all domestically, under a coach whose man-management has been questioned this past season in Julian Nagelsmann.
Furthermore, Mane looks unlikely to be lining up alongside Robert Lewandowski, who has made his desire to leave quite clear.
Cases past show Mane is gambling. At the peak of his powers after a terrific season for both club and country, it may not be a case of Liverpool and Klopp missing him but rather, Mane missing Liverpool and Klopp.
Mane won all there was to win in a red shirt but is he taking an unnecessary risk in leaving?