The friendly between Brazil and Senegal, at 9am (Brasilia) this Thursday, in Singapore, will have a field athlete nominated among the world's top ten in the election held by the FIFA. He will be dressed in the African team shirt and will step on the lawn with the stamp of approval. Lionel messi.
Sadio Mané, 27, received the Argentine ace the best player vote in The Best award, delivered last month. Messi, who ended up taking the trophy for the sixth time, could neither vote for himself nor honor his former colleague. Neymar – For the second consecutive year, the Brazilian was out of the previous list of ten names that could be chosen by the coaches and captains of each team.
Senegalese, fifth in the poll, was also named best in the world by Hazard from Belgium. Neuer from Germany, Lewandowski from Poland and Godín from Uruguay put Liverpool striker in second place. Van Dijk from the Netherlands, and Guerrero from Peru, ranked him third best.
The prestige gives a taste of the respect earned by Mané, European champion last season. He has scored 27 goals in 56 matches, a good average for a striker who usually plays in the left wing. In the demanding English Championship alone, there were 22 balls in the net in 36 games, numbers that boosted their morale with Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp.
“Treated like a son” by the boss, as the Senegalese himself describes, the player is living a dream his parents didn't believe in. At 16, as detailed in a recent interview with France Football magazine, he had to flee his home, hiding his suitcase in a thicket before leaving his hometown of Sédhiou for tests in the capital Dakar.
“In the morning, I brushed my teeth and didn't even shower. I left without telling anyone but my best friend, ”said Mané, remembering difficulties such as appearing in the sieve with a pair of patched cleats – motive of a mockery soon neutralized with a talent that jumped in the eyes.
Next to be impressed were the scouts of French football, Europe's traditional gateway to African players. By then, the resistance of the parents had already diminished, but the 18-year-old striker only called his mother when he was already at Metz: "I'm in France."
Mané also passed Austria's Red Bull Salzburg before arriving in England at the modest Southampton in 2015. A year and a half on the team was enough to make him a close athlete, and the competition was won by Liverpool, who in 2016 , paid £ 34 million for its football, then the largest amount disbursed by a player from Africa.
Unlike fellow countryman El-Hadji Diouf, remembered by Liverpool fans for the resounding disappointment at the club, he did not disappoint in red. But his success is somehow linked to Diouf, who delighted in the 2002 World Cup before two and a half seasons of underperformance in the English team and a career in smaller teams.
What Senegal did at that World Cup, winning the title defender France at the opening, inspired the 10-year-old Mane to put pro football as his goal. To this day, he cites Diouf as a reference, placing Brazilian Ronaldinho side by side with the idol.
The Gaucho is not the only connection with Brazil of Senegalese, who built good friendships in Liverpool with fellow Roberto Firmino and now former partner Philippe Coutinho. At the Singapore National Stadium on Thursday, he will meet his friends wearing a shirt he gives even more importance than the red one.
Mané declared that he would trade the Champions League title for the African Cup of Nations, but had to settle for the runner-up three months ago, losing the final to Algeria. At 27, he still has time to pursue this and other goals, with the impetus that made him hide his suitcase in the bush in 2008.
A speed player, who likes to drop from the left to the middle to score his goals, he has similarities to the same-placed opponent he will face in Singapore in the match broadcasted by TV Globo and SporTV. There are differences, however, that go beyond the presence or absence on FIFA's list of the best in the world.
“There's all this money, media coverage… I don't care about that, really. I don't care about that. Of course I'm part of this environment, but I'm a little suspicious. Keep my distance, avoid social networks, and return to my village as often as possible to keep my feet on the ground. I don't like to be seen. I'm a discreet person who wanted to be a soccer player, not a star. "
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