Sadio Mane: The anti-modern day footballer

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Sadio Mane at Bayern
Sadio Mane at Bayern

There’s no doubt that Sadio Mane’s star shines brightly on the field. Off it, though, the big-name Bayern Munich signing is even more influential. bundesliga.com details how the Senegal star prefers to use his status to help others rather than flaunt the trappings of fame.

It would be easy for a player like Mane to forget about where he came from. Having got 120 goals and 38 assists in 269 games for Liverpool – winning English Premier League, European and African titles along the way – the exciting attacker is a global superstar.

Humility, however, has been a constant feature of Mane’s character since he began climbing the footballing ladder. One such insight came when he collected the African Men’s Player of the Year award in January 2020.

To publicise the ceremony as part of a photoshoot, Mane found himself asked to sit upon an oversized armchair with the large golden prize in one hand.  Not unreasonably – given that the then-Liverpool player had been named the best on the continent and was now occupying what resembled a throne – someone in the room joked that the Senegal international was “the king.”

In a clip that soon went viral, it took a couple of seconds for Mane to register what was said. The reaction after that was swift, though. His infectious smile briefly vanished from his face, and he politely wagged his finger at the man who had addressed him. “No, no, no… I’m not the king.”

The implication seemed clear. Mane would accept the plaudits and play along with some of the more gaudy aspects of promoting the industry. But he wasn’t any different to you or I.

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A cynic would argue that it’s easy for a player to make a show of appearing modest when there are cameras around. Mane, though, has done plenty away from the limelight that proves he’s a long way from the stereotype of a conceited and uncaring modern-day footballer.

The 30-year-old was brought up far from the bright lights and excesses of the glamorous football world he now inhabits. The nature of that upbringing – and the profound setbacks he dealt with along the way – have helped to keep him grounded.

They made him want to give something back as well. In the 2020 documentary film Sadio Mane: Made in Senegal, the player explained how he lost his father at the age of seven in part because there were no major medical facilities in his home village of Bambali. Having risen to the top with Liverpool, Mane decided it was time for him to provide one.

“I remember my sister was also born at home because there is no hospital in our village,” Mane said of his childhood growing up in the impoverished Sedhiou region. “It was a really, really sad situation for everyone. I wanted to build one to give people hope.”

The hospital, built at a cost of over €500,000, now serves 34 villages in the south of Senegal. The man who made it happen returned home for its official opening in June 2021.

Mane, who slotted home the winning penalty in February 2022 as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time, is used to receiving a hero’s welcome when he returns to the West Africa. At this stage, though, many of the people greeting him are thankful not just for the joy he has brought them through his success on the pitch.

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Bayern’s new No. 17, after all, has also financed a secondary school in Bambali, making sure that laptops and a strong internet connection are available too. In Sadio Mane: Made in Senegal, he tells local schoolchildren that “education is key” – urging them to make the most of chances that weren’t available to him.

Mane has also delivered a petrol station and a post office to the area and, when the coronavrius pandemic first hit, he posted a video detailing what precautions people should take. At the same time he donated €45,000 to the national committee tasked with tackling the problem in Senegal.

There are countless other examples of Mane offering jerseys, money and trips to people less fortunate than himself, and the most famous quote attributed to the player – via Teledakar in 2019 – perhaps sums up his image best.

“Why would I want 10 Ferraris, 20 diamond watches, or two planes?” he was quoted as saying.

“I prefer that my people receive a little of what life has given me.”

If further proof were needed that fame hadn’t gone to Mane’s head, it arrived shortly before his arrival in Munich in the summer of 2022. While plenty of his fellow professionals were posting holiday pictures from luxurious locations while dressed in designer clothes, Senegal’s record goalscorer had a much different focus on his social media feeds.

A picture showed the Bayern star back playing where it all started for him as a boy – on the most basic of pitches imaginable in Bambali. The local community came out in numbers to watch their hero – wearing runners – take part in a match that featured many of his old childhood teammates as well as former Senegal internationals like ex-Freiburg attacker Papiss Demba Cisse. Mane later posted a video with some footage of the game – played in muddy and wet conditions – after which he promised to build a modern artificial pitch in the locality.

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Such is Mane’s popularity back home that he says very few people will be working when he lines out for Bayern. It’s clear, though, that he is aware of the influence he has – and that he takes his chance to be a role model seriously.

“Of course I think all of us – not only me, but my [national] teammates – we represent our country in Europe,” said Mane when asked in his first Bayern press conference about what his move would mean for Senegal.

“We are a kind of ambassador. We’re just trying to do our best and at the same to make the youth dream big. Because dreams are allowed for anyone… and of course I will be here to make them proud.”

Mane, that most untypical modern footballer, has already done so.

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