Sadio Mane: Chasing the dream, from Senegal to Liverpool

A young Sadio Mané left home at 16 against his family’s wishes to achieve his dream of becoming a professional footballer and has not looked back since.

He blazes down the pitch, dribbles and dodges his way past one defender after another and beats the goalkeeper to slot it in goal —it’s an everyday thing for Sadio Mané. It sure is challenging, but it is what he does best — something that he realised in his early teens. A young Mané left home at 16 against his family’s wishes to achieve his dream of becoming a professional footballer and has not looked back since. The Senegalese forward made his professional debut for French side Metz FC, moved to Austria to play for RB Salzburg and then landed at Southampton FC, where he struck the fastest Premier League hat-trick in 176 seconds.

READ | How Liverpool became Premier League champion, at long last

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Now a European and Premier League champion with Liverpool, Mane has established himself as one of the most influential players in the world. In a recent interview, the 2019 African Footballer Of The Year talks about his humble beginnings and the path that led him to achieving footballing stardom.

What was your earliest memory of playing football while growing up in Senegal?

We had a tournament when I was in school, this is one of the memories... I can say where everything began. It was one of the big tournaments in my village which we played every weekend, similar to the Premier League. It had a big impact on my life, especially to achieve my dream.

What were the pitches like?

They were not the best pitches for sure. I was in the seventh standard and we would have one team to play in the tournament. That was the kind of tournament we played every year in school.

How did your passion for football develop?

I think I was 14 or 15 years old...until I was 16, I always played, and I remember when I started in those games I was scoring a lot of goals and playing well. Everybody said I was a very good player and one of the best in the school. I needed to go and try to achieve my dream because it was complicated for me to be a professional football player in the village. That’s where everything started — that was the time when my parents didn’t want me to become a football player. They thought I would waste my time. When I knew that they would never support me to become a football player, I left the village and ran away to achieve my dream.

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That was a very brave decision for you to make...

Yes, sure since I can say that I was the first one to do it. I remember at that time how my parents were so strict with me and to do it was not an easy decision. But, I always told my mother, this was the only job I could fulfil to help them.

How did your parents react when you left to play in Europe?

When I left the village, my mom was not happy, but she accepted my decision. But at the same time, she never dreamed that I would become a football player because I travelled very far. She had seen many young boys who wanted to be like me, but they all failed. So, for her, nobody could help me become a footballer and she felt I would stop football and do something else. She didn’t believe me when I called her the first time to tell her that I am in Europe.

READ| Here's how Liverpool fans celebrated first Premier League title in 30 years

Do you feel you have made the Premier League and Liverpool more popular in Senegal?

The Premier League has always been popular. There are a lot of fans in my village who want to see me playing and they all focus now on the Premier League because they always support me.

And they must be proud that one of their own is now a Premier League champion...

Winning the Premier League was one of the biggest things that happened to me and for them, and I am really proud of it.

You’re clearly very strongly rooted to your home town...

Everybody has his mind to see how life is, so I think I just see it differently. I came from a very small village. I know the situation of those people.

You’ve been involved in charity work and have recently helped coronavirus victims financially and helped build a school and a hospital. Tell us a little about that.

I don’t like to speak about these kinds of things, but I try to do my best to help those in need because I go out there and I know the reality. Helping them is something that is very normal for me to do.

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