Nowadays, Red Bull Salzburg is increasingly known in Europe and around the world as an elite talent developer, from Erling Haaland to Takumi Minamino, Naby Keita, Dayot Upamecano, Hwang Hee-chan, Dominik Szoboszlai and more.
The Red Bull model in general also produced Timo Werner and Joshua Kimmich, both taken to the Leipzig side of the family as a teenager.
Red Bull took over Salzburg in 2005 and immediately renamed the club, while Leipzig in Germany quickly followed in 2009. In Salzburg, the Red Bull revolution brought immediate success back to the club, but the focus also changed early in the years. 2010s to talent detection.
Sadio Mane may be Red Bull’s original success story, emerging from humble beginnings to achieve world-class status within a matter of years.
Salzburg scouts clearly saw something in a 20-year-old Mane for the club to sanction a € 4million transfer. He had left home in Senegal without the knowledge of his family, venturing to France where he had obtained a contract with Metz. The relegation meant he was playing in the third tier of French football by the time the call came from Austria and € 4million was a considerable sum against the background.
Bur Salzburg gave him the platform he needed to become what he is now. After winning the Austrian Bundesliga they sold it to Southampton for just under £ 12million in 2014, making a net profit and a proof of concept they have relied on ever since.
Mane was successful at Southampton and improved in his second year on the South Coast – year-to-year improvement has been a major feature of his entire career – helping the Saints record a sixth place in Premier League in 2015/16, their highest level in 29 years.
Liverpool then agreed he was worth £ 34million and took Mane to Anfield in the summer of 2016, making him the first major buy of the rapidly developing Jurgen Klopp era on Merseyside.
Mane’s course over the past four years has matched that of Liverpool. He didn’t arrive as a world-class superstar, joining a team that is still finding its feet, but become world-class as the Reds have gone from promising contenders to champions of Europe, the world and, perhaps more importantly, England.
Mohamed Salah has received more applause and Roberto Firmino is more technical, but Mane is arguably the most important part of Liverpool’s legendary front-three. He’s the one who’s really electric, does more for the team as a whole, and most often does a decisive difference.
“Consistency was the key and absolutely now what he does and how he behaves is consistent. The level at which he plays is incredible. He helps us massively. He’s a complete player, offensively and defensively, he works hard, he’s really fast, ”Klopp gushed over Mane in July 2020.
“He came as a young boy and he grew up, matured here. It’s normal at the time in his career when it was clear this would happen and we were fortunate to be there while it happened.
After calling it “complete”, Klopp also added the label “world class”.
“To become a really good player for a world-class player, there’s no question, and he’s a winner too. It’s great to have him here, ”said the Liverpool boss.
That consistency at the highest level over the past two years has set Mane apart and it’s what makes him one of the few world-class forwards who remain in the game today.
Liverpool ran Manchester City to the wire in the 2018/19 Premier League title race, finishing with what was then the third-highest points total in Premier League history, due to the impact by Mane.
From January he has scored consistently and decisively, and in the second half of the campaign it has never been more than two Premier League games without a goal. He went on to win a share of the Golden Boot, tying Salah in goals, and was named PFA Team of the Year – in fact the only Liverpool attacking player to be included.
In the Champions League, Mane had scored in the previous season’s final when goalkeeper errors and a miracle goal from Gareth Bale made the difference between Liverpool and Real Madrid. He scored 10 goals in the competition in 2017/18, just like Salah and Firmino, and it was no small feat considering he was playing for the first time at this level besides just simple qualifying rounds.
Mane helped Liverpool do better and become European champions in 2019, before his remarkable consistency shone through and contributed to the 2019/20 Premier League title triumph. He was particularly the difference in victories over Southampton, Newcastle, Leicester, Aston Villa and Everton as the Reds took an unassailable lead in January.
At times in his career at Liverpool he carried the team’s momentum. The club could not have enjoyed the same success without him and to do so at a time when Manchester City were setting new records and raising the bar to unprecedented levels is even more astonishing.
For Mane, who had to work so hard to play professional football in the first place, at 28, he feels it’s not the pinnacle, the journey is far from over and he wants more.
“I think as a player I’m still learning,” he said during the summer. “I never stop learning and you can see me and everyone [Liverpool] the boys have developed a lot. We never stop working harder because it has always been a dream for me to play and always get better and better.
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