It is almost impossible in your modern football world where tribal insanity conquers all reason, but has Sadio Mane just managed to achieve the perfect big club exit?
Certainly, the general reaction from Liverpool fans would suggest that he’s come as close to nailing it as can possibly be expected. There are fringe lunacies, of course, because football fans are still humans with all their foibles and oddnesses, but in the main the reaction from Reds appears to land again and again in the same places. Disappointment, gratitude, reminiscing about the great times and a fair amount of understanding. I’d contend that when you leave any football club these are the precise emotions you would want to evoke.
Even disappointment isn’t a negative emotion here; if there’s no disappointment at your exit then there can only have been disappointment at your presence. And that’s definitely worse.
Mane has played this very well indeed. He’s not just run his contract down and left on a free, which would have been perfectly understandable. Liverpool have got some money and fans have got some ammunition whenever the latest round of the Great Net Spend Wars gets under way.
He’s also, and this feels very important indeed, gone to a Proper Club in a different country. Joining Bayern Munich is very different to when assorted players took the cash to go off to China a few years ago. Liverpool, being themselves among the most Proper of Clubs, can of course understand why a player so proud to wear their shirt would feel similarly about your Bayern Munichs. There’s a dignity to that, a history and tradition that makes the talk of “new experiences” and a “different challenge” ring true. This is all far more acceptable than joining, say, PSG.
As an aside, what’s interesting here is that while the fans’ reactions have been in the main really quite pleasingly sane, the large body of Liverpool-adjacent gobshites dominating football’s punditocracy have generally lost their entire tiny minds over it.
Michael Owen, who left Liverpool for Real Madrid, simply could not even begin to grasp why a player would do such a thing. Dean Saunders, whose post-Liverpool CV features Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Bradford City, huffily declared that leaving Anfield and going to play for Bayern Actual Munich constitutes wasting one’s career.
Even those making the entirely reasonable point about the relative greenness of post-Liverpool grass for recent high-profile departures have to make space in their thoughts for Philippe Coutinho, whose Barcelona career was admittedly eye-wateringly dreadful, yet so dreadful that it also featured him scoring twice in an 8-2 win against Barcelona en route to winning the Champions League for, er, Bayern Munich.
And then there are Mane’s own words as he broke his silence about his move to Bayern and how he felt about Liverpool. There was effusive praise for the supporters, with the line “I am going to be Liverpool’s no.1 fan – after the supporters!” an absolutely textbook crowd-pleaser to stand alongside any one of his 120 goals for the club. ‘I will always love this club very nearly as much as you, the best fans in the world’ is a sentiment that football fans are always going to drink down.
Keeping his house in Liverpool is another nice touch, although an empty house in the middle of a housing crisis is not the one. Knowing Mane, though, he’ll probably make it available to a local housing charity because he seems entirely that kind of good sort.
He also spoke fondly of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino and, crucially, the newer members of that frontline in Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz.
He’s telling Liverpool fans that it’s going to be okay. They are going to be okay without him and all the goals he scored – as an obvious aside, scoring all those goals and winning all those trophies before leaving the club is another way to help (but not guarantee) leaving on good terms. They have new players now. Other players. Not necessarily better players, but still really good ones. Don’t worry, Sadio is telling those Liverpool fans he loves so much, it’s going to be okay.
And you know what? He’s right about that as well. Which I guess also helps makes his departure that bit easier for everyone to handle. Well, everyone apart from Dean Saunders.