I often think about the hundreds of aspects to a title-winning season and what exactly would make number 19 so special. There’s the day itself, Jordan Henderson lifting the trophy for all those who believe he is the worst midfielder to ever play the game, Jurgen Klopp giving it the big one in front of the Kop, the ensuing summer of never-ending euphoria, the Community Shield, Evertonian and Mancunian reactions, being in pot one for next year’s Champions League draw, the plethora of songs likely to arise from a nineteenth league triumph, and so on.
But then I think about the future, how will you and I remember number nineteen many years after the celebrations have come to an end. Will all the memories be forgotten for one last-gasp goal as it was for City in 2012? Will the season be looked back on as one where the Reds just found a way to win week-in, week-out, finishing just shy of a hundred points?
But if Liverpool’s league-winning season isn’t defined by one goal or one game? What if it all becomes synonymous with one player, Sadio Mane.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I need to tell you that the Reds winning the league this season is still very much an ‘if’, as opposed to a ‘when’. However, regardless of whether the dream comes true over the next eight weeks, Liverpool’s number ten is keeping up his side of the bargain, in his quest to carry Liverpool over the line.
Without his up-turn in form since the turn of the year, Liverpool would be out of the title race and maybe even out of Europe. The stat that will make defenders, supporters and pundits sit up and take notice will be that the Senegalese winger has netted eleven times in as many matches, but that only tells half the story.
He embodies everything that this side is about. He desperately wants to win it, not just for himself, but for everyone around him. Look at the game last Sunday. The celebration for his opener, his reaction to winning the penalty, the delight on the final whistle as he drops to his knees.
He has audacity, something Liverpool sides had gone too long without prior to this season. He’s not fazed by what stands in front of him.
He’s not the least bit interested in your Serge Auriers or your Azpilicuetas. He’s better than them, and reckons they should all be having nightmares at the prospect of facing Liverpool’s main man in the coming weeks.
As with so many members of this squad, he is technically superb and capable of the sublime at any moment. In recent weeks, any time he has stood up a defender and prepared to take him on, you need not watch because there will only be one outcome.
At times when the Reds have looked uninspiring and lackluster in 2019, Mane has been the one constant threat. When Liverpool fall short of expectations against West Ham, Leicester and Fulham, he stands up and takes the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring the opener on all three occasions.
Against Watford and Bournemouth, Klopp’s team entered Anfield under massive pressure after recent poor results. The temptation was there for them to second guess themselves, players could’ve got caught in between keeping faith in the principles that had brought them so far and seeking a change in approach to alter results.
Sadio Mane was having none of it and followed Bob Paisley’s advice, sticking the ball in the back of the net and discussing his options later.
Out of all of Liverpool’s great European wins on the continent, few have been led by one man quite as much as last week’s victory in Bavaria was manned by the ex-Southampton attacker.
The opener is one of those Liverpool goals I can say I’ll definitely remember until my dying day. The turn, the dink, the sheer fucking audacity of the man to do that against Manuel Neuer.
The way things ended in Kyiv last May will mean Mane’s role in the 2018 European run will be consigned to the dustbin of notable yet forgotten contributions in Liverpool’s history alongside Daniel Sturridge’s worldie versus Sevilla in 2016.
Very few players score a hat trick away in Europe. Even fewer score it against a proper football team such as Porto. But Sadio Mane doesn’t conform to the rules. He’s not arsed about them.
He scores the third at home to City and is probably the Reds’ best player a week later in Manchester. He then nets home and away versus Roma and grabs the equaliser in an ill-fated final.
Sadio Mane v Real Madrid
Kyiv, 2018 pic.twitter.com/3ElXXsBQqT
— The Mighty Reds (@arthurjarrett) December 17, 2018
He straddles the line between humility and arrogance perfectly. He backs himself and never lets an early mistake stop him from trying again, when it will almost always come off at the second time of asking if it hasn’t already. Yet he seems content where he is.
He doesn’t strike me as someone who craves individual awards, nor does he look like a man whose ultimate ambition lies away from Merseyside in Madrid or Barcelona.
He is jovial, rarely seen off-the-pitch without making a joke or cracking a smile and yet deadly serious about winning the league.
He is the best of us. Let us appreciate him. Some day he will be gone and we will look back at 18/19, the season where Sadio Mane’s brilliance propelled Liverpool to their greatest domestic victory.