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Mane remains true to home

Liverpool star has converted his home village to loyal Liverpool supporters

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RAGS TO RICHES: Sadio Mane has taken his game to the next level at Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images

RAGS TO RICHES: Sadio Mane has taken his game to the next level at Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

RAGS TO RICHES: Sadio Mane has taken his game to the next level at Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images

Sadio Mane's introduction to the brightest of Premier League spotlights was more than a little unconventional.

In the summer of 2015, Manchester United believed they were closing in on a deal to sign Barcelona star Pedro, only for the Spaniard to side-step a move to Old Trafford and sign for Chelsea instead.

Amid this somewhat embarrassing turn of events for United transfer guru Ed Woodward, Old Trafford insiders turned to one of their tried and trusted PR moves as they leaked a story suggesting Pedro was never their first-choice transfer target and instead, they were chasing the relatively unheralded Southampton winger Mane.

While scoring ten goals in his debut season in the Premier League was a decent return after his £11.8m move from Red Bull Salzburg, Mane hardly appeared to be the headline act ready to follow in the footsteps of United's legendary list of wide men that includes George Best, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The United links ultimately came to nothing, but they served to raise Mane's profile to a point that ensured his move to a top Premier League club was no longer a source of ridicule.

Yet for the kid who hailed from the remote Senegal village of Bambali, links with one of the biggest clubs in the world - and the riches they offer - were hard to come to terms with.

"Sadio was a quiet lad and suddenly he was being linked with Manchester United and it affected him," reflects his former Southampton club captain Kelvin Davis.

"We had an incident when Sadio missed a team meeting and was dropped by our manager (Ronald Koeman), but it did not surprise the rest of us in the squad. Sadio was never great at timekeeping and was maybe a little too laid back for his own good at times.

"He was quite shy during his time at Southampton. Maybe that is because of his background and how far he has come in life and he deserves so much credit for that. He has gone on to Liverpool and has clearly moved his game to the next level and everyone at Southampton wishes him well."

The rise and rise of Mane is one of the more unlikely rags to riches stories, given the hurdles he has been forced to overcome to become a player being mentioned as a strong contender to win this season's PFA Player of the Year award.

To start with, he had to defy his own parents, who were desperate for young Sadio to abandon football dreams that they believed to be fanciful.

Yet after earning a chance to train at the Generation Foot academy in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, doors began to open for Mane and he was given a path into European football at French club Metz.

"My parents didn't have a specific job in mind for me, but they thought playing football would be a waste of time and they never thought I would be a professional footballer," recalled Mane in an interview with the Liverpool website.

"Then I get this chance at Metz and my mother does not believe it is happening. She called me and I said I was in France and she did not believe. She called every day until she finally believed I was in Europe.

"Honestly, before I took the flight I was not sure if it was true because for me, it was my dream. My dream had come true."

The fantasy quickly threatened to turn into a nightmare for Mane as injuries and acute homesickness chipped away at his burning desire to make it in the game, with the contrast between his daily routine in France and what he was used to in Senegal tough to come to terms with.

Mane's sparkling performances for Senegal at the 2012 London Olympics propelled his move to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and that was when his dream of making it in English football started to crystallise.

Southampton was his platform to prove himself, yet Liverpool was a dream club he always wanted to join from the moment he witnessed their iconic 2005 Champions League final win against AC Milan in Istanbul.

"Three-nil down at half-time, then 3-3 and penalties, it was amazing," declares Mane. "I was a Barcelona fan then, but how can you not love this beautiful comeback from Liverpool?

"This was a big memory for me. I was watching in my village, Bambali. I remember being with my friend, a big friend of mine, and at 3-0 down he was completely out of it.

"He stopped watching 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."

Mane sent 300 Liverpool shirts back to Bambali as the village ground to a halt to watch their famous son turn in a fine performance in their 2018 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid. And his status as a national hero in Senegal was highlighted by his move to donate around €50,000 to a health body fighting the outbreak of Covid-19 in his homeland.

"The best thing you can do is remember your home town," he adds. "They need help and if I can, I do. That is important to me. I will always think about them. I feel strongly about this.

"I think all of Senegal supports Liverpool now. Before it was Manchester United, Barcelona and Madrid. Now they like Liverpool more. The people in Senegal like me so I am happy."

Mane's fairytale is an inspiration to all African kids daring to dream that they can follow in his footsteps. They could not wish to have a better role model.