Liverpool forward Sadio Mane will fly to Ghana 24 hours before Friday’s FA Cup Merseyside derby against Everton with manager Jurgen Klopp’s full support.
The Senegal international will travel with Reds team-mate Mohamed Salah as both are on the shortlist for the Confederation of African Football’s player of the year award.
However, with Salah an injury doubt for the game, as is Philippe Coutinho, the importance of Mane has become greater in the short term than that of new £75million signing Virgil van Dijk, and it was highlighted in the 2-1 win at Burnley – a rare January win for Klopp.
Mane scored a brilliant opener – only his second Premier League strike since August – and may have to play a key role against Everton, but Klopp will not prevent him from travelling to Africa.
“Sadio is unbelievably important for us. He is strong, quick, so many things. He scores a goal like this and it is like, ‘Wow’,” said Klopp, who saw defender Ragnar Klavan snatch a stoppage-time winner after Burnley’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson had equalised in the 87th minute.
“We have everything organised. We have two of the three best African players in our squad. We have to show them respect.
“If it had been a matchday they wouldn’t have asked. We sleep in a hotel, they sleep in a plane. That is all the difference.
“If Mo is not fit, it will not be for that (travelling). For our side, it is just a sign of respect.
“I had (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang (at Borussia Dortmund) and there is nothing more important than to go there.”
Van Dijk was officially confirmed as a Liverpool player on Monday after the paperwork on a world-record deal for a defender was finalised, with all negotiations with Southampton and the player concluded last week.
The transfer fee eclipses the £54million spent by Manchester City to sign England full-back Kyle Walker from Tottenham in the summer, but it is something the Holland international had no control over.
“Obviously there is a lot of money being paid, but I can’t do anything about that money, I can’t do anything about the price – nobody can,” he told liverpoolfc.com.
“It’s only the market. The only thing I can do is just work hard, do the good things and be 100 per cent every day. I am happy to be here and I can’t wait to get started.
“I think this is the right time for me to be here and to develop all sorts of aspects of my game. I am looking forward to doing that – that’s the main thing.”
Klopp refused to say whether the centre-back was in contention to face Everton.
“I don’t know,” the German said. “We made a few tests. No rush. He is on fire, really wants (to play), but we have to make sure he can perform.
“Centre-half is a position which depends on the others in the pitch. That means you have to tune it so you work together.
“After Friday, we have a little bit more time. It is a long-time project. It is not important when his first game (is) but how many good games (he has).”