Jurgen Klopp probably didn’t want to be addressing transfer rumours in his press conference ahead of the Champions League final but questions on Sadio Mane’s future, however incongruous, were answered at length and with glowing praise.
Mane was described as being “in the shape of his life” ahead of the final, with Klopp adding he “couldn’t care less” about stories linking him with Bayern Munich. “It’s a joy to watch him at the moment in training and in games,” said the Liverpool boss.
Klopp already knew at that point the meeting with Real Madrid was likely to be Mane’s last game for Liverpool. His desire for a new challenge became public within days of defeat at the Stade de France and, a month on, a move to Bayern has been completed.
It is telling, though, that Klopp was effusive in his praise of the 30-year-old until the last. Liverpool are loathe to lose him but there are no hard feelings. Not after everything he has done for them.
Mane’s future had, until the final weeks of the season, been something of a sideshow to that of Salah – even though he too was entering the final year of his contract at Anfield.
It is a familiar dynamic. Mane, although cherished by those associated with Liverpool, tends to receive only a fraction of the attention and acclaim afforded to his team-mate. It has been that way ever since the Egyptian’s arrival, a year after his, in 2017.
He departs, however, having played a similarly crucial role in the club’s transformation during Klopp’s tenure, leaving an indelible mark on Liverpool and indeed on the Premier League as a whole.
His arrival from Southampton in 2016 signalled the start of the glorious chapter that followed. Mane was, after all, Klopp’s first major signing. Fast, ferociously aggressive and ruthlessly efficient, he came to embody Klopp’s Liverpool perhaps better than anyone else.
Together with Salah, he helped redefine expectations of wide forwards, reaching double figures for goals in six consecutive seasons and scoring at least 20 in four of them. His overall total of 120 puts him 14th in Liverpool’s all-time scoring charts.
The numbers cement his Liverpool legacy while the consistency of his output, as well as the pivotal role he played in the club’s first title triumph in 30 years in 2020, ensures Premier League greatness too.