Sadio Mane had a twinkle in his eye when he said it. He would reveal more about his future, he said, after the Champions League final and, the way his 2022 was going, it is understandable if he imagined he would be able to announce his departure in a blaze of glory. He had already scored the winning penalty in the African Cup of Nations and the spot kick to send Senegal to the World Cup and, if he had missed from 12 yards when he could have clinched the FA Cup, Liverpool lifted that anyway, along with the Carabao Cup.
Mane had felt in the form of his life. He seemed in that happy place where a footballer has reached such a standard that confidence does not sound like arrogance and he touted himself for the Ballon d’Or. He may have only needed one more decisive display on a big stage to script his ideal goodbye. Perhaps he was inches – and an inspired goalkeeper – from delivering it. A combination of Thibaut Courtois and the inside of the post denied him the opening goal in the Champions League final. There were to be no celebrations, no on-pitch interview announcing the fondest of farewells. Instead, news emerged the following day that, after six years, Mane was calling time on his Anfield career. Liverpool’s first great Jurgen Klopp signing would not be a part of Klopp’s second side on Merseyside.
Yet, despite the rare sense of rejection from one of the definitive players of their modern-day golden age, despite Bayern Munich’s attempts to lowball Liverpool, it could largely be an acrimony-free exit. In part, that reflects gratitude for brilliance and the financial reality it can be better to get a fee now than none next summer. But a fanbase both soothed and excited by Darwin Nunez’s arrival can eye a replacement who is proof of the pulling power Mane helped provide. While the Senegalese revealed he was close to joining Manchester United before Klopp intervened in 2016, it seemed a more straightforward choice for the Uruguayan six years later than it was for him. Mane joined a Liverpool side that had finished eighth and left one who were arguably Europe’s most compelling team.