Sadio Mane’s Dream Five-A-Side Team Stars Messi, Ronaldinho And El Hadji Diouf
Sadio Mane has revealed his dream five-a-side team before the release of a new film showing his remarkable rise from a farming village in Senegal to Liverpool hero.
The first two picks are easy: his childhood hero Ronaldinho and El Hadji Diouf, not loved on Merseyside but the attacking inspiration for a Senegal side that reached the 2002 World Cup quarter-final when Mane was 10 years old.
"I like Samuel Eto'o as well, a great player," adds the Liverpool forward, in an exclusive interview with SPORTbible. He then thinks hard about his last two spots, before choosing a Manchester City hero and a Barcelona idol.
"Yaya Toure too, he is so strong, and... I'll go for Messi. Of course! I will also go for Messi."
The LFC No 10 cracks a huge smile from under a Senegal baseball cap that is, we notice on video, hiding a fresh isolation buzz cut. It's a mouthwatering five-a-side team - and who doesn't want to see Ronaldinho and Eto'o link up once again?
It also contains three footballers from Africa and Mane, the reigning African Footballer of the Year, is now on the list of his continent's great stars. But his journey has been an incredible one from where he grew up in the small farming village of Bambali.
"People found me abnormal," he says in a new documentary, Sadio Mane: Made In Africa. "When I told my mother: 'I want to be a footballer', she thought I was crazy. To her it was a child dreaming."
This wasn't a simple, everyday concern that Mane might not be good enough to make the grade. It's that people from such a modest place simply didn't go on to become professional footballers, let alone grow into one of the best in the world.
"Nobody in my family wanted me to become a footballer," says Mane. It reached a point where the teenage Sadio ran away from home to train in Senegal's capital Dakar - only to eventually be discovered and taken back to Bambali. There, a deal was struck: he'd finish school, then he insisted on trying to make it as a footballer.
Safe to say it's turned out pretty well since then.
"People know me in football, but not many know my real story," he says on the reason for his documentary. "I'm struggling to describe how proud and how motivated I get when I am back home. Because all these people show me love and they are so happy to see me at this level [in football]... It's unbelievable for myself."
More Like ThisMore Like This
Sadio Mane Exclusive: Voiding Premier League Season Is ‘Crazy’ But Coronavirus Fight Must Come First
Also remarkable is that Mane has come from such an unassuming village, where a tin pot or a rock often had to take the place of a football, to be one of the game's elite.
The obstacles he overcame are personal and professional. He lost his father to a sudden illness at age seven. When he first went abroad to French side Metz, he struggled with the cold weather and a serious adductor injury that he feared might end his bid to become a player in Europe.
"The determination just came to me since day one," he says on the drive that saw him succeed not only at Metz but at Red Bull Salzburg, Southampton and now Liverpool. "Because ever since I was born, as I grew up, I just loved football. This is the only job, and the only sport, I can be successful in - and from there to help my people and my family."
Mane's investment in Bambali includes personally funding a new school, a football pitch and a mosque. A hospital is currently undergoing construction, something that did not exist in the village when his own father got sick, meaning he had to be taken to a healer in another town.
"Every week or two weeks, they send me a video - and I'm really happy with the work," he says of its progress. "So let's see. Another six months and hopefully it will be done. I can't wait to see this hospital."
The love for Mane is clear when he returns to his hometown, yet expectations from the country as a whole around the national team is intense. The country never won the Africa Cup of Nations, the best finishes being a runner-up spot in 2002, which Mane and his teammates matched in 2019.
"Playing for Senegal and Liverpool, it's a really, really different pressure," he says. "For Senegal you have millions of people in a country that has never won the Africa Cup. That's why there's this pressure - but we understand it.
"Especially for myself, because they always think I play great in Liverpool and for Senegal, I play really badly. So for me, it's a bit complicated. But I try to understand and I will always - with my team - try to do what's possible to make this group successful. We will do our best."
Mane has proved capable of shouldering high expectations in the past, including betting on his own ability and application to take him this far.
"Where I was born, being a footballer means you have to sacrifice everything," he says at the start of his documentary. The hope is that the next time a footballer with talent and ambition emerges in Bambali, they might not have as many obstacles to overcome as their current star.
Made In Senegal is available 8th April for free on Rakuten TV
All imagery: PA Images