Jurgen Klopp probably didn’t want to be addressing transfer rumors in his press conference ahead of the Champions League final but questions on Sadio Mane’s future, however incongruous, were answered at length and with glowing praise.
Mane was described as being “in the shape of his life” ahead of the final, with Klopp adding that he “couldn’t care less” about stories linking him with Bayern Munich. “It’s a joy to watch him at the moment in training and in games,” said the Liverpool boss.
Klopp already knew at that point the meeting with Real Madrid was likely to be Mane’s last game for Liverpool. His desire for a new challenge became public within days of defeat at the Stade de France and, a month on, a move to Bayern appears imminent.
It is telling, though, that Klopp was effusive in his praise of the 30-year-old until the last. Liverpool are loathe to lose him but there are no hard feelings. Not after everything he has done for them.
Mane’s future had, until the final weeks of the season, been something of a sideshow to that of Salah – even though he too was entering the final year of his contract at Anfield.
It is a familiar dynamic. Mane, although cherished by those associated with Liverpool, tends to receive only a fraction of the attention and acclaim afforded to his team-mate from him. It has been that way ever since the Egyptian’s arrival, a year after his arrival, in 2017.
He departs, however, having played a similarly crucial role in the club’s transformation during Klopp’s tenure, leaving an indelible mark on Liverpool and indeed on the Premier League as a whole.
His arrival from Southampton in 2016 signaled the start of the glorious chapter that followed. Mane was, after all, Klopp’s first major signing. Fast, ferociously aggressive and ruthlessly efficient, he came to embody Klopp’s Liverpool perhaps better than anyone else.
Together with Salah, they have helped redefine expectations of wide forwards, reaching double figures for goals in six consecutive seasons and scoring at least 20 in four of them. His overall total of 120 puts him 14th in Liverpool’s all-time scoring charts.
The numbers cement his Liverpool legacy while the consistency of his output, as well as the pivotal role he played in the club’s first title triumph in 30 years in 2020, ensures Premier League greatness too.
Only three players have accumulated more Premier League goals than Mane during his time at Liverpool while only oneTottenham’s Harry Kane, has scored more which have proved decisive.
Indeed, one of Mane’s greatest strengths, and one which separates him from his peers, is his ability to deliver at key moments, when the pressure is at its most intense and the stakes at their highest.
He is Liverpool’s clutch performer, to use a popular term in American sports, and the numbers bear it out. According to Opta, his goals have won Jurgen Klopp’s side a total of 63 points in the Premier League at an average of more than 10 per season.
He has been similarly decisive in the cup competitions, the most recent example coming in last season’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Wembley, when his double secured Liverpool’s place in a final they would go on to win.
In the Champions League, the raw statistics show Salah has outscored him by 33 goals to 24 during his time at Liverpool but it is worth noting that Mane’s total includes 15 in the knockout stages – a percentage of 63 per cent – to Salah’s 11 – or 33 per cent.
In fact, since 2016, only Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski have hit more goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League. It is another statistic which underlines Mane’s appetite for the very biggest occasions.
His contribution to Liverpool’s success under Klopp is even more impressive given the adaptations he has had to make along the way, switching from right to left to accommodate Salah in 2017, then switching to center forward to make room for Luis Diaz last season.
Each role came with a different set of tactical requirements but Mane transitioned seamlessly every time, displaying a level of intelligence to match his physical and technical qualities.
“In each position, he is world class,” was Klopp’s verdict.
“He’s always moving for someone else but his performances never drop,” added Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher. “It doesn’t seem to matter where Mane plays, you get exactly the same from him. The same cannot be said for the rest of the Liverpool attack.”
In truth, the same cannot be said of many players.
Mane has not always received the recognition he deserves for his role in Liverpool’s recent successes but his importance can hardly be overstated. When it comes to the big moments and the big occasions, his departure from him will leave a void even Darwin Nunez may find it difficult to fill.
Liverpool fixtures: Reds begin at Fulham
Liverpool begin the 2022/23 Premier League campaign with a lunchtime trip to newly-promoted Fulham on Saturday August 6.
It will be the fourth season in a row in which Liverpool have started a new campaign against a Premier League newcomer.
But after then facing Crystal Palace, Jurgen Klopp’s side will take on Man Utd at Old Trafford on August 20.
September will feature away trips to both Everton and Chelsea in September and Liverpool will also face back-to-back clashes against Arsenal and champions Man City on October 8 and 15 respectively.
Liverpool’s final game before the season stops temporarily for the winter World Cup will be against Southampton at Anfield on November 12 before returning to action at Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
The Reds then host arch-rivals United on March 4, before tricky-looking clashes in consecutive weekends at City (April 1) and against Arsenal at Anfield (April 8), before finishing the season at Southampton.
Follow the summer transfer window with Sky Sports
Who will be on the move this summer when the transfer window opens on June 10 and closes at 11pm on September 1?
Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumors in our dedicated Transfer Center blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky SportsNews.