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All crazy for Sadio Mané

Decisive and low-profile: can the Senegalese really win the 2019 Golden Ball?

All crazy for Sadio Mané Decisive and low-profile: can the Senegalese really win the 2019 Golden Ball?

When in Seoul, an unforgettable afternoon in late May 2002, when his countrymen dragged by Pope Bouba Diop and Khalilou Fadiga defeated the reigning world champions of France, Sadio Mané had just turned 10 years old. He was probably incredulous as every football fans from all over the world in front of a TV in Bambali, the village from which he left when was only 15 to go to the first trial with the Generation Foot, in Dakar, dreaming of becoming the new El Hadji Diouf. Seventeen years later, the Liverpool footballer is one of the most decisive strikers in the world, not surprisingly among the candidates for the 2019 Golden Ball title. The prize will be unveiled on December 2nd, and despite it seems destined once again to Leo Messi (some big betting companies no longer accept the bets on the Argentine award), the hypothesis of rewarding a Liverpool player, the team that won the last Champions League edition and that counts seven players in the nomination list remains concrete: in addition to Mané, there are Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Virgil Van Dijk, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Georginio Wijnaldum.

If the credibility of Mané's nomination is not to be discussed (his 2019 was absolutely incredible, thanks to 27 goals without even a penalty and 7 assists), the Senegalese's real great personal success was to fuel dualism with Mohamed Salah, one of the great secrets of Liverpool's collective growth, together with the other positive and stimulating antagonism between Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. The key to improving and emerging, sometimes even overcoming his teammate and friend both as a personal performance and as a public consideration. In addition to the decisive goals that obtained the applause of Jurgen Klopp and his fans, for which Mané has also used to improper 'weapons' as the header, the Senegalese received important feedback almost everywhere, very valid because they come from colleagues and football experts: the Cesc Fabregas' endorsement, the Arsene Wenger's public statements ("Mane is an outstanding character, because he's a fighter...and also efficient. He's not scared of anybody. At the moment, he deserves huge credit."), the support of Eden Hazard who will cheer for him in the Ballon d'Or race, and also a great esteem from the Congolese player Cedric Bakambu, according to which Mané is the African footballer that everyone would like to see triumph. A symbol for the whole continent because of the extreme simplicity that distinguishes him and that has actually made him an antidive, a genuine figure increasingly rare in football today and therefore doubly appreciated. And also Leo Messi voted for him in the recent edition of FIFA 'The Best', thus recognizing its value.

But even outside the world of football the former Metz and Southampton have earned the curiosity of a transversal audience, ending up on the cover of the latest issue of Mundial, for which he conceded a long interview, and also the appreciation of more unsuspected characters such as the American rapper Scheck Wes, who dedicated a song to him entitled "Sadio Mane (YNWA)" and also slowthai, the English musician also Reds fan who in a recent interview published on the official website of Liverpool stated:

"I'd put Sadio Mane on the back of my shirt now. He's my guy. He's undeniable. I feel like he can be the best player in the world."

Sadio Mané is one of the four African footballers able of scoring in a Champions League final and also the most expensive ever, but he is so inconspicuous that from the way he handles moments off the pitch he seems a completely normal person. More than a winning goal or a speedy run under the Kop, in fact, to become viral was the video shot when, during a recent trip with his National team, he helped the attendants to carry water bottles, a gesture as natural as it was sensational. His human qualities have emerged even better in his recent interview appeared everywhere, making it even more special if possible when he dared to say that it makes no sense to spend money on Ferrari and own expensive clocks, if you don't have the will to help needy people. Today Mané supports thousands of his countrymen by sending them something like € 70 every month, showing that they have not forgotten its origins and that the famous motto 'You'll Never Walk Alone', the chant that is used to hearing continuously sing by its fans, it's not a simple stadium song but a concrete lifestyle to follow.

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For those who do not remember: to find an African player on the podium of the Golden Ball award, excluding Zinedine Zidane, you must go back in time until 1995, when George Weah triumphed. If Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o didn't make it, can Mané succeed? If his personal story deserves an epilogue of that kind, a slightly fictional human evolution that we might need badly as an example for the future (the son of the Imam of the village used to playing barefoot on the street who manages to get up at heaven the Champions League and that has nothing to envy to the greatest strikers in the world), its eventual triumph would still be certainly unexpected and shocking, certainly like an underdog. A little bit for that appearance of a man of the past, a bit for his technical skills, not exactly corresponding to the common stereotype of the Ballon d'Or winner, a technical footballer with the number 10 on his shoulders who knows how to take free kicks unlike of him, unaesthetic but effective, very fast and almost impregnable, that at Liverpool the number 10 managed to wear it anyway. But perhaps the time has come for us to free ourselves from this conception of 'talent' and 'pure class' completely disconnected from our times and let the reality of things prevail.