It’s crazy to think that October will be Jürgen Klopp’s seventh year in charge of Liverpool. Appointed after his sabbatical at Borussia Dortmund and inheriting an exceptionally ordinary squad from Brendan Rodgers at Anfield, Klopp transformed the Reds seemingly overnight, implementing his gegenpressing heavy metal football to help the club reach the finals of both the League Cup and Europa League.
Ultimately they came up short in both, beaten by Manchester City on penalties before capitulating in Basel to lose 3-1 to Sevilla. It was the latter that cost them a place in the Champions League, albeit a blessing in disguise for the eccentric German.
The Reds lack of European football meant the transfer window became a difficult prospect that summer. Initially linked with some big names from across the world, the singings of Mario Götze, Emre Mor and Jonas Hector eluded them, instead opting to develop their own players from teams lower down the pecking order in England. Georginio Wijnaldum arrived from already relegated Newcastle United, but more significantly, Sadio Mané joined from Southampton for £30 million.
Indeed, Mané’s move was the one that got the ball rolling in the Klopp era, proving a watershed moment in the Red’s history. Having scored 15 goals on the South Coast the previous season, and impressing in Austria for RB Salzburg, the Senegal international hit the ground running for Liverpool, scoring a brilliantly crafted goal on his debut against Arsenal and a late winner in the Merseyside derby to instantly win over the travelling fans.
By all accounts, Mané perfectly personified an archetypal Klopp winger — pacey, dynamic, versatile, direct, strong, essentially injury-free.
The Anfield crowd have this unique relationship with their star players — especially with how they fall in love with the number nine. At a time where Roberto Firmino was reinventing Liverpool’s forward line, Mané took on a lot of the responsibility in terms of scoring goals, and his absence was felt when he left for the Africa Cup of Nations that January, with the Reds winning just one of their five games that month, many football bets changing their tune on Klopp’s Champions League ambitions.
It took until the final day for Liverpool to secure fourth, and the following summer they reached the pinnacle of European football whilst perhaps overachieving to reach the Champions League final. While the spotlight was on new signing Mohamed Salah, who scored 44 goals in his first season back in England, Mané had a memorable campaign himself, grabbing a hattrick away at Porto and scoring the equaliser against Real Madrid in the final before the Spaniards eventually won 3-1.
Donning a new look number ten on his shirt, Mané enjoyed perhaps his best years in a Liverpool kit, winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Premier League in two seasons, where Liverpool were the cream of the crop as far as their form was concerned. In 2018-19 he shared the Golden Boot with Salah before a Man of the Match display in Istanbul to win the Super Cup against Chelsea, and then another 22 goals in all competitions.
As difficult as the next season was for Liverpool, plagued by injuries to key defenders and matches played behind closed doors, Mané showed his resilience, with his brace at Anfield on the final day of the 20-21 season securing third for the Reds, and while it wasn’t the title defence they expected, it was a strong end to the campaign given the circumstances. He then won a League Cup and FA Cup double in what would prove to be his last season at Anfield, leaving it to the imagination of the fans how different things could have been, had he converted the effort at the Stade de France against Madrid which ultimately hit the post.
Mané departs Liverpool as a legend after a six-year stay, joining German champions Bayern Munich while suggesting he only left to pursue a new challenge, showing his affection to the club.
“After every one of my games in Munich I will come to the dressing room and I will watch Liverpool, for sure, because I am going to be Liverpool’s No.1 fan forever,” he said. “I just want to say good luck to them and I have an eye on them. And for sure they will be even better because I know the boys: great players, great talent, great maturity and attitude, so of course, Liverpool will always stay even better, for sure.”