Throughout soccer’s history, one of the most underrated regions of the world has always been Africa. So many of the great players in soccer history have come from the continent, but have been overlooked by many when considering them among the top players in the world. However, Sadio Mané is a player whose talents have forced the world to recognize him as among the world’s best.
Born in Bambali, Senegal, Mané took a love for soccer at a very early age. However, it was difficult for him to play the sport because his father, who was an imam, prohibited him from playing. However, his father passed away when Sadio was 7 years old, and through dealing with that, he started picking up the game. He left his village when he was 15, traveling to Senegal’s capital of Dakar to pursue his dream.
He was spotted by scouts while playing in M’Bour in 2009 and signed to Génération Foot, a small club in Dakar. He helped them to promotion to the 2nd division in 2011. From there, he was able to move to France, joining Metz, who had a pertnership with Génération Foot. There, he made his professional debut in January 2012. He made 19 appearances in his first season, eventually moving into the starting lineup. However, Metz did not have a great season, as they were relegated to the French 3rd division.
Still, Mané showed he could play, and Metz moved him to Red Bull Salzburg that summer. He also featured for Senegal in the 2012 Olympics. He then made his debut for the senior national team. In 2 seasons with Salzburg, Sadio Mané scored 45 goals and added 32 assistsin just 87 appearances, absolutely destroying the competition and leading the club to a domestic double in 2014. After that season, Mané wanted to make a move, and he had dreams of playing in the Premier League. He made that move, signing with Southampton in August 2014.
It was in the Premier League that Mané versatile style of play became noticed. He had 25 goals and 14 assists for Southampton in 2 seasons and then made a huge move to Liverpool FC in 2016. There, Mané’s teammate Fabinho described him as a player who played with “high levels of intensity and concentration.” Liverpool is where he moved into the upper echelon as one of the great players in the world. What struck many people about Mané’s game started with his field awareness and decision making. It was also his creativity on the ball and his ability to storm past opponents and score with either foot. He also tracked back on defense, never shying away from doing the work necessary to preserve a win.
On top of that, his demeanor was always modest. He just wanted to help his teammates find success, and he would that not just by scoring goals, but also setting up his teammates to score as well. In 6 seasons with Liverpool, he scored 120 goals and added 48 assists across all competitions. He helped Liverpool advance to 3 Champions League finals, winning once in 2019. He helped Liverpool win the 2019 UEFA Super Cup, the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup, and they got the 2022 FA Cup and League Cup.
However, his greatest achievement with Liverpool came in 2020, when the club won the Premier League. It was the first time the team had won the top flight in 30 years and the first since the top flight reorganized into the Premier League. Sadio Mané signed with Bayern Munich in June 2022 and is in his first season with the club.
On the international level, as Mané’s stardom soared, so did Senegal’s prospects. He has scored 33 goals in 92 caps for his country, and led the team to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final, where they lost a heartbreaker to Algeria. At the next edition of the tournament, the outcome was different. Sadio Mané and Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time, the most prestigious win in the country’s history. Mané played for Senegal in the 2018 World Cup and was slated to captain the team in 2022. However, an injury he sustained just before the start of the World Cup forced him to withdraw from the tournament.
However, despite all of the accolades he has won individually or has helped win for his teams, with him being considered one of the greatest African players of all time, his philanthropy is where his status is iconic. Throughout his career, Sadio Mané has given back to his community and to help increase access to the game. He donated over $300,000 in 2019 to build a school in his home village of Bambali. In 2021, he donated over $680,000 so that his village could also have a hospital. And in 2020, during the heigh of the Covid pandemic, he donated over $50,000 to help fight the spread of the virus in Senegal. He famously told a Ghanaian news outlet that he didn’t need the material things in life because it was more important to help others.
“Why would I want ten Ferraris, 20 diamond watches, or two planes? What will these objects do for me and for the world? I was hungry, and I had to work in the field; I survived hard times, played football barefooted, I did not have an education and many other things, but today with what I earn thanks to football, I can help my people...I built schools, a stadium, we provide clothes, shoes, food for people who are in extreme poverty. In addition, I give 70 euros per month to all people in a very poor region of Senegal which contributes to their family economy. I do not need to display luxury cars, luxury homes, trips and even planes. I prefer that my people receive a little of what life has given me”.
Sadio Mané is also an ambassador for Right To Play, which helps empower at risk children and help with education and access to level the playing field. He’s the complete package - a world class talent on the field, yet humble and giving off the field. It’s no wonder that Sadio Mané is regularly thought of as one of the most popular athletes in the world, and he will go down as one of the great players in soccer history.
For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing stories throughout the month to highlight some of the biggest moments in Black American and world soccer history.