The Senegal international was a hero at Anfield, but has been a complete failure in his debut season with the German champions
Bayern Munich’s £35 million capture of Sadio Mane was initially seen as one of the bargain deals of the 2022 summer transfer window, as the forward rejected a contract extension at Liverpool to take on a new challenge at the Allianz Arena.
Mane earned a place among Europe’s elite attackers during his six-year stint at Anfield, scoring 120 goals in 269 games, becoming a Premier League and Champions League winner in the process.
Bayern hoped that the Reds hero would help fill the void left by Robert Lewandowski, who completed a long-anticipated move to Barcelona shortly after Mane’s arrival in Germany. The early signs were positive, with five goals netted in his first six appearances after slotting straight into Julian Nagelsmann’s starting XI.
However, the goals quickly dried up for Mane, and he faced plenty of criticism after a poor display in the club’s 2-0 Champions League group-stage victory over Barcelona. He was substituted after 70 minutes after failing to muster a single shot, with Nagelsmann left frustrated.
“I would like him to do certain things more,” said the coach. “Maybe less looking for the ball or teammates, and trying to be a bit more self-confident.”
Fast-forward seven months, and Mane is now a shadow of the player he was at Liverpool. The 31-year-old has also reportedly become a disruptive influence behind the scenes, and with Bayern’s season now threatening to unravel, his future at the club has been thrown into doubt…
Nagelsmann was ruthlessly sacked by Bayern after a 2-1 Bundesliga defeat to Bayer Leverkusen on March 19, which allowed Borussia Dortmund to leapfrog them at the top of the table.
At the time, Bayern were still in the hunt for a treble, but they no longer had faith in Nagelsmann to finish the job, and former Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel was drafted in as his replacement.
In the days that followed, it was widely reported that Nagelsmann had lost the dressing room, with Mane and Leroy Sane among those that had wanted him gone.
According to BILD, Mane was also involved in a furious row with the German manager after Bayern’s victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie, as he complained about being restricted to a substitute role.
Mane has been given a clean slate under Tuchel, who backed him to silence his critics upon his arrival in Bavaria. “Even at his age, it always takes time to acclimate after a change of clubs,” he said. “That can take time. There’s no doubt about his quality and what it can bring us.”
Bayern have since exited the DFB-Pokal and stand on the brink of Champions League elimination after a 3-0 first-leg loss to Manchester City in the quarter-finals. Mane was unable to make any meaningful impact after coming on for the final 20 minutes, and was seen arguing with Sane in the last knockings of the game.
It has been widely reported that the altercation escalated in the away changing room, with Mane said to have punched Sane in the face before they were pulled apart.
BILD states that Sane was left with marks on his lip after the brawl, and Mane was separated from the group as Bayern officials sought to calm the situation.
It was confirmed on Thursday that Mane will be suspended by the club for one match and receive a fine for his actions, and there’s a real concern now that Mane’s temper will ruin his Bayern career, as he has a long road ahead of him to win back the trust of his team-mates.
Bad luck has also played its part in Mane’s frustrating first year at Bayern.
He was forced off through injury in the club’s 6-1 win over Werder Bremen on November 8, and subsequently underwent surgery to re-attach the head of his right fibula.
Secretary General of FIFA and former Senegalese diplomat, Fatma Samoura, summed up the mood of an entire nation after the news, telling Europe 1: “We are going to use witch doctors. I don’t know (if they’re effective) but in this instance, we’re going to use them anyway. We are hoping for miracles. He has to be there!”.
Mane was still initially named in Senegal’s final squad for the 2022 World Cup after the injury blow, but Bayern confirmed his withdrawal after the operation.
The Lions of Teranga made it through the group stage for the first time since 2002 in Mane’s absence, but ultimately bowed out after a 3-0 loss to England in the last 16, with the winger forced to watch on while working on his recovery at Bayern.
After three months out, Mane finally made his return to action off the bench in a 3-0 victory against Union Berlin at the end of February, but he has found it difficult to get back up to speed. The former Liverpool star has started only two of Bayern’s last eight games in all competitions, and has just one assist to his name during that period.
Mane is now facing the biggest test of his career to date, with Bayern’s patience likely to run out if he does not rediscover his best level in the coming weeks.
Mane was primarily deployed on the left of a devastatingly effective front three at Liverpool alongside Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, but Jurgen Klopp did also use him as a No.9 at times, with impressive results.
Mane’s pace and agility made him a nightmare for defenders in one-on-one positions, and he was often extremely clinical in front of goal due to his ability to finish with either foot.
Nagelsmann certainly felt his talents were best suited to a role through the middle, but Mane was unable to sustain his encouraging early output at Bayern.
His loss of form prompted former Liverpool and Bayern midfielder Dietmar Hamann to question whether he felt settled in Munich back in September.
“He is not integrated,” Hamann told German magazine GMX. “He is at his best when he comes from the outside. He doesn’t look happy to me. Nobody is talking about Mane at the moment. He seems isolated and hardly takes part in the game.”
Pressed on where he feels most comfortable on the pitch, Mane said the following month: “My position? I’ve played left winger my whole life. If the team needs me as a striker or right winger, I’ll be there.”
Thomas Muller and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting led the line while Mane was injured, and Serge Gnabry has been operating as a false nine since Tuchel’s arrival at the Allianz.
It seems unlikely, then, that Mane will get a look in upfront again anytime soon, which might be a blessing in disguise.
He remains a winger by trade – that’s where he did the most damage for Liverpool. The question is: Can he get back to those heights under Tuchel?
Liverpool put in a quite remarkable effort in 2022-23, participating in every possible match in all competitions while chasing down an unprecedented quadruple.
Mane featured in 51 of their 63 games, contributing 23 goals and five assists, with Jurgen Klopp’s men ultimately finishing up with an FA Cup and Carabao Cup double after falling agonisingly short in the Premier League title race and Champions League final.
The Reds’ thin squad was pushed to its limit, and they have suffered a considerable hangover this season as a result.
The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and even Salah – who to his credit, has still managed to score over 20 goals – have all underperformed, leaving Liverpool sitting down in eighth in the Premier League table.
Even if Mane had stayed, it is highly unlikely that they would have avoided such a decline, as the Senegal frontman is also still feeling the physical effects of an exhausting campaign himself.
“He’s a machine. But at the moment, like most players in Liverpool, he’s suffering from a piston attack. I think he’s just worn out,” Hamann told Sky Germany earlier this month.
That could also explain why it has taken Mane so long to recover from his surgery, and why he is now seemingly more prone to uncharacteristic emotional outbursts.
Mane needs a long break this summer to refresh and re-energise, while also assessing what he wants to achieve as he edges toward the latter stages of his career.
According to Sport 1, Bayern officials have not been satisfied with Mane’s debut season. They expected more a player with so much experience at the highest level, and his application in training has also been called into question.
The report states that Mane has lost some of the ‘explosiveness’ that made him so dangerous at Liverpool. Its clear to see when he is on the pitch that his work rate hasn’t dwindled, but his effectiveness on the ball certainly has.
He hasn’t scored since October, and Sky Germany are reporting that Bayern are considering a summer sale after his clash with Sane.
An apology could appease the club for the time being, but chief executive Oliver Kahn didn’t give the most convincing response when quizzed on his future in a recent interview with Sky.
“He’s still in search of himself a little,” said Kahn. “He’s a player that needs a lot of encouragement. He’s not used to the type of competition for places we have here. It wasn’t like that at Liverpool. We hope he will come through for us sooner or later.”
Mane still has a contract with Bayern until 2025, and might be given one more season to prove himself. Ending this one with a flourish would help his chances, and Tuchel’s side could certainly use the best version of Mane in their bid to close out another Bundesliga title and overturn their aggregate deficit against City in the Champions League.
Whether or not he has anything left in the tank right now, though, remains to be seen.