From childhood rebel to soccer superstar

Liverpool winger Sadio Mané is one of the deadliest attackers playing today, a huge draw for football fans as they tune in to the African Cup of Nations (CAN), where he will act as the playmaker of Senegal. A crucial component in Mané’s meteoric rise was Génération Foot, a Senegalese club that has been instrumental in making the national team an African soccer powerhouse.

Sadio Mané became the first Senegalese player to win the Premier League with Liverpool’s stunning victory in the 2019-20 title, as well as becoming the first Senegalese player to score in a Champions League final the previous year and the first in scoring more than 100 goals in the Premiership. . Can you become the first Senegalese player to lift the CAN trophy?

As Senegal launches its CAN campaign against Zimbabwe on January 10, hoping to realize its long-term potential, as most famously demonstrated in its 2002 World Cup win over France, Jowhartakes a look at the illustrious career of its captain and star Mané.

During his childhood in rural southern Senegal, 29-year-old Mané quickly developed a passion for soccer. But his father, a local imam, forbade him to play. Young Mané escaped to the capital Dakar to try his luck there, a failed attempt that ended a pact between him and his mother: that he could play soccer as long as he continued his studies and remained a good Muslim.

At the age of 15, the budding footballer left home again, this time with the blessing of the family. A scout saw him playing in a local soccer tournament in M’Bour, 80 kilometers southwest of the capital, and the scout made sure that Mané did tryouts in the capital.

“We were organizing tests in Dakar and my colleague at M’Bour had brought his four best players; Sadio Mané was one of them, ”Jules Boucher, then a recruiter for the Senegalese club Génération Foot, told FRANCE 24.“ I set up two teams for a match and made Mané number 10; after fifteen minutes, he was the one who impressed me the most. I stopped the game. I told my colleague: if this boy gets a good training, he will become a great player ”.

Back then all the qualities that strike Mané football fans today were present: in particular, his ease with complexity, his lacerating pace and his incisive passing. It was Boucher who decided that these gifts would be better optimized by placing Mané on the attacking left wing, a position he still plays for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

Metz to Liverpool

Génération Foot has played an important role in cultivating young Senegalese talents over the years. It was created in 2000 by Mady Touré, who became a specialist agent for young African players after a playing career cut short by injury. Touré’s first big success was the cultivation of Togolese forward Emmanuel Adebayor, who moved to Metz from Ligue 1 in 2001 for two years, before joining Monaco and later captured the attention of soccer fans around the world with his spells on Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham. Génération Foot’s ties to Metz became formative in the development of this line of Senegalese talent.

After FIFA instituted a regulation banning the transfer of minors, Metz decided to “invest in infrastructure” and build a “real training center to keep players until they turn 18,” said club president Bernard Serin. , to FRANCE 24.

In fact, Metz developed a vast complex to serve as a training academy, including new grounds and even a boarding school.

Meanwhile, Génération Foot was rising rapidly through the Senegalese soccer rankings after a humble start in the third division, thanks in large part to their young talent. Young Mané was instrumental during his brief stay there, as Génération Foot won promotion to the second division. The club’s ascent then continued without him; they now play in Senegal’s first division, which they have won twice.

Mané made an instant impression by joining Metz in 2011.

“His potential was clear to us from the moment he arrived; I remember it perfectly, it was a game against Bastia in January, the way he went through the defense and scored a penalty, ”Serin recalled. “It was extraordinary for someone who has just started in European professional football; all the qualities were there. He only played for us for a dozen games, but that was enough to get him called up for Senegal. ”

Mané could have turned Metz into a French soccer powerhouse. But sadly, the club declined for the first time in its history that year. In a precarious financial situation, they had to sell some of their best talents to stay afloat. The same year, they also sold Kalidou Koulibaly, now a recognized force as a Napoli center-back and, along with Mané, the lynchpin of the Senegal team.

“It is a source of regret that we had to let both of them go so soon; They really could have made the fans happy for a few years if we could have kept them, ”said Serin.

Austria’s RB Salzburg signed Mané for € 4 million on the last day of the transfer window. The winger continued his remarkable rise there, quickly establishing himself as a potent force, scoring 45 goals in 87 games, including three hat tricks. Mané finished the 2013-2014 season as the club’s top scorer, with 15 goals in all competitions.

Mané gained the attention of soccer fans around the world when he joined the English Premier League, the most demanding in the world, signing with Southampton in 2014. The South Coast club had established itself as a force every more and more powerful in English football; a pool of talent that elite clubs can acquire at high prices.

As Mané went from strength to strength in the bright lights of the Premiership, as witnessed by his 21 goals in 67 appearances for Southampton, he attracted the attention of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

Determined to make this historic club the dominant football force in England once again, Klopp won € 36 million for Mané in the 2016 summer transfer window. The medals soon began to roll in as Liverpool won the league. Champions in 2019 and the coveted Premier League title the following year.

Pride in Senegal

Mané’s performances for Senegal did not wane as Liverpool flourished, as their national team advanced to the final of the 2019 African Cup of Nations. Senegal lost to Algeria, but Mané was able to console himself with 3 goals and an assist in 6 CAN games, Not to mention being crowned 2019 African Footballer of the Year, ahead of Liverpool teammate Mo Salah. However, Mané has made no secret of his desire to lift the CAN trophy for Senegal.

Mané has always been proud of his Senegalese roots, as evidenced by paying for an extension to his old high school, shipping 300 Liverpool jerseys to his hometown after the Reds lost the 2018 Champions League final. against Real Madrid and their regular return trips. to visit Génération Foot, where one of the player’s residential buildings is named after him.

The partnership between Génération Foot and Metz of France continues to flourish, having recently cultivated talents such as Watford’s Ismail Sarr and Tottenham’s Pape Matar Sarr. Despite the emergence of other Senegalese talents such as Dakar Sacré-Coeur and Diambars (both partners from Marseille), Génération Foot remains one step ahead.

“The partnership between Génération Foot and Metz facilitated an improvement in the quality of Senegalese football,” Salif Diallo, sports director of the Senegalese Press Agency, told FRANCE 24. “Génération Foot is the backbone of Senegalese teams, and that’s true of the next generation as well. ”

If Senegal can make its dream come true and lift this year’s CAN trophy, Génération Foot can claim much of the credit.

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