Football is arguably the most engaging sporting event on the continent of Africa. The viewership and followership of the game has continued to increase rapidly over the years since Egypt first represented Africa at the second edition of the FIFA World Cup held in Italy in 1934. For lack of poor administration and adequate investment in football in most African countries, young and talented individuals, male and female alike - who choose to play football professionally are often exported out of their home countries to other parts of the world in search of better opportunities to display and earn from their enterprise. This piece examines the sojourn of a certain Sadio Mane of Senegal who had to defy all the odds stacked against him as he rose from the ashes of local stardom to compete at the highest levels of professional football as a global talent.

For the records, Sadio Mane is the current captain of the senior national football team of Senegal (nicknamed the Teranga Lions). Mane has been a part of the Senegal team since 2012 when he played at the Olympics tournament in London. He has gone on to make four (4) African Cup of Nations and three (3) FIFA World Cup appearances respectively for the country.

Following series of spectacular performances over the past five (5) seasons for Liverpool FC where he plies his trade in Europe and on the continent where he led Senegal to glory in the 2021 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, Mane, the 2019 African footballer of the year winner has reaped the dividends of hard work and persistence - two qualities that has helped him rise out of the trenches in Senegal and is leading him on to an impactful and illustrious football career.

The 29 year-old 5-ft 9 inches forward who left his hometown in Sedhiou at 15 exclusively describes in an interview with Goal.com on how he rose to becoming one of the most fiercest attackers in football today.

Mane’s fizz and the frequency with which he left markers muddled in the distance, was well known on the streets of Sedhiou, a remote city in Senegal where he grew up on a diet of football in the dust. He pursued a career in football despite his father who was an imam forbidding him from playing the sport as a child. However, his father died when he was seven years old. He later escaped his home village and went to Dakar at age 15 to pursue his ambition of becoming a footballer as his family began to support him. At 15, he made a near 500-mile journey enroute north of Dakar, and floored yet another observer as his destiny started to take shape.

Mane explained in quote - “I left my city to go to the capital with my uncle, and there were trials on. We went to them and there were lots of boys being tested and getting organised into teams. I will never forget this, and it is funny now, but when I went to try out there was an older man that looked at me like I was in the wrong place. He asked me ‘are you here for the test?’ I said I was. He asked me, ‘with those boots? Look at them. How can you play with them?’. They were bad, really bad - torn and old. Then he said, ‘and with those shorts? You don’t even have proper football shorts? I told him what I came with was the best I had, and I only wanted to play - to show myself. When I got on the pitch, you could see the surprise on his face. He came to me and said I’m picking you straight away. You’ll play in my team. After those trials, I went to the academy."

It took plenty of pleading for the young Mane to leave home, let alone sign up to Generation Foot in 2009 where he began his professional career. This academy also groomed some of Senegal's football greats like Diafra Sakho and Papiss Cisse.

Mane said “I was in the city, just playing ‘on the way’ - in the street or wherever there was a game. Since I was two or three years old, I remember always being with the ball. I would see kids playing on the street, and would join them. That is how I started - just on the roads. When I got older, I would go to watch games, especially when the national team played. I wanted to see my heroes and imagine myself as them"

“Everyone would tell me I was the best in the city, but my family wasn’t a footballing one. They are big on religion and wanted different things for me. When they could see that in my head and my heart there was only football, I started to convince them to let me go to Dakar. In the beginning they didn’t accept it, but the more they saw how much I wanted it and that there was nothing else for me, they helped me."

Mane would later go on to play for club sides like Metz in France, Red Bull Salzburg in Austria before he finally touched down in the English Premier League where he joined Southampton at the St. Mary's in 2014 before moving to Liverpool two years later for a fee that made him the most expensive African footballer at the time.

Mane finished as fourth best player at the 2019 Ballon d'Or and was also in the award for the Best FIFA Men's Player where he ranked fifth in 2019 and fourth in 2020. He has scored 29 times for Senegal and that makes him joint all-time top scorer with the ex-international Henri Camara. Later this year at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, we expect to see Sadio Mane in action for Senegal as they qualified ahead of Egypt in a recent, double header knockout fixture.

For us at Power of Africa, we recognize the incredible impact of these kinds of stories and the motivation that it brings to young Africans who relentlessly aspire to rise to the pinnacle of their careers and would not stop believing in the beauty of their dreams.

Credit: goal.com