It’s almost impossible in your modern football world where tribal madness conquers all sanity, but did Sadio Mane just pull off the perfect exit from the big club?
The general reaction from Liverpool fans would certainly suggest that he’s as close to success as one could hope for. Of course there are fringe weirdnesses, because football fans are still human beings with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies, but essentially the Reds’ reactions always seem to end up in the same places. Disappointment, gratitude, memories of the great time and a good deal of understanding. I would argue that when you leave a football club, these are exactly the emotions you want to evoke.
Even disappointment is not a negative emotion here; If there is no disappointment in your departure, then it can only have been disappointment in your presence. And that’s definitely worse.
Mane played that really really well. He didn’t just quit his contract and walk free, which would have been perfectly understandable. Liverpool have some money and the fans have some ammunition for the final round of the Big Net Spend Wars gets going.
He also, and that feels really important, went to a real club in another country. The move to Bayern Munich is very different from a few years ago when different players took the money to go to China. Liverpool, being one of the most respectable clubs themselves, can of course understand why a player so proud to wear his shirt would feel similarly about your Bayern Munich. It has a dignity, a history and a tradition that make the talk of “new experiences” and a “different challenge” seem true. It’s all much more acceptable than going to PSG, for example.
As an aside, what’s interesting here is that while fan reactions were, on the whole, quite gratifyingly sane, the large group of Liverpool-neighboring gobshies who dominate football’s punditocracy generally lost their whole tiny wits about it to have.
Michael Owen, who left Liverpool for Real Madrid, just couldn’t begin to understand why a player would do such a thing. Dean Saunders, whose post-Liverpool CV includes Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Bradford City, morosely explained that leaving Anfield and moving to Bayern Munich was a waste of one’s career.
Even those who make the perfectly reasonable point about the relative greenness of the turf to Liverpool for recent high-profile departures have to give way in their minds to Philippe Coutinho, whose Barcelona career was admittedly breathtakingly awful, but so awful that it surfaced for him too scored twice in the 8-2 win over Barcelona en route to, er, Bayern Munich winning the Champions League.
And then there are Manes’ own words as he broke his silence on his move to Bayern and his feelings for Liverpool. There was lavish praise for the fans with the line “I am going to be Liverpool’s no.1 fan – after the supporters!” an absolute textbook crowd favorite to stand next to one of his 120 goals for the club. “I will always love this club almost as much as you, the best fans in the world,” is a sentiment football fans will always drink.
Keeping his home in Liverpool is another nice gesture, although an empty house in the middle of a housing crisis is not the right thing. Knowing Mane, he’ll probably lend it to a local housing association because he seems like such a good guy.
He also spoke fondly of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, and especially the newer members of that front in Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz.
He tells Liverpool fans everything will be fine. You’ll be fine without him and all the goals he’s scored – btw, scoring all those goals and winning all those trophies before leaving the club is another way to help (but not guarantee it ) that you go on good terms. You now have new players. other players. Not necessarily better players, but still really good ones. Don’t worry Sadio is telling the Liverpool fans he loves so much everything will be fine.
And you know what? He’s right about that too. Which I think also helps make his departure a little more manageable for everyone. Well, everyone except Dean Saunders.