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Mane is Africa's best footballer

  • 27 November, 2020
  • by Admin
  • 1 comment(s)

The official record will sadly not reflect it, but the Senegal international remains, for the second year running, the continent's premier footballer

Even as the otherworldly greatness of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo begins to fade away, its effect can still be glimpsed in the manner in which footballing merit is discussed and evaluated.

Both players so completely obliterated pre-existing standards that, slowly, it altered the discourse around football, pushing it, more than at any other time in history, toward a cold numbers game.

Be that number of titles won or number of goals, or even goals scored in specific competitions being weighted differently than others; in time, their contribution to the zeitgeist became purely mathematical.

It is an effect that is unlikely to wear off quickly, by the looks of it.

It is difficult to argue against the merit of Robert Lewandowski, who claimed The Best Fifa Men’s Player of the Year award earlier this month in quite emphatic fashion, but even that was simply a perpetuation of the status quo – no one scored as freely, or as reliably, as the Pole in 2020, and he was pivotal in leadingBayern Munich to a treble.

The extra-terrestrials dutifully filled out second and third, but only as a matter of course.

In a choppy year where so little was certain, perhaps it made sense to Fifa to have them on the podium as a sort of emotional anchor. In reality, the second-best footballer on the planet over the past 12 months has been none other than Sadio Mane.

It stands to reason then that he is, by extension, African Footballer of the Year...or, at least, he would have been if Caf had not scrapped the award for 2020.

No matter, though; the Senegal international was the recipient of the bauble in 2019, and so retains it (in a way) by simple incumbency. It is only a shame that the record will not denote this explicitly.

If the former claim seems a little high-minded, the latter should be easy enough to parse. Mane might not do as much of the heavy lifting goals-wise as the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, or (within an African context) Mohamed Salah or Pierre Emerick Aubameyang do (in any case, he has managed 16 in all competitions during a stop-start year), but he is, in many ways, a call-back to a simpler time when football was not solely about its most decisive function.

And yet, for all that, Mane is very much the modern footballer, in that he answers the burning tactical questions of the day better than almost anyone else.

In a game increasingly obsessed with balance, structure and denying space, he both inhabits the system and perfectly negates it.

Few players are able to completely unbalance a game as well, whether by means of his agility, use of subtle feints, abrupt changes in direction or simply attracting opponents to himself to create space for others.

He knows system and was moulded by it, and yet is not bounded by it.

Mane’s importance within a wildly successfulLiverpool side is unmistakable, and is attested to by an intriguing pattern: of the six matches he has not started for the Reds this season in all competitions, they have only won two.

Small sample, yes, and a bit of a crude measure. However, consider team mate Salah, by contrast: he has started all but three, and there seems no similar correlation, serendipitous or otherwise, between his absence and a downturn in outcome.

The rest of the field have even weaker claims.

Riyad Mahrez finished on the podium in 2019, but it would be very generous to place him that high this time around. While, like Mane, it takes a lot more than a cursory look at the numbers to appreciate his gifts, he cannot boast of the same level of consistency, or the same level of trust from his manager.

Aubameyang was transformative for Arsenalfor much of the year, almost single-handedly leading the Gunners to FA Cup and Community Shield success. Sadly though, he has fallen victim to a wider malaise at the Emirates Stadium, and has looked a shadow of himself since inking a new deal with the club. As the Gabonese sharpshooter has entered his 30s, it is his smile, rather than his pace, that has been lost.

Nevertheless, he and Salah are a worthy three and two respectively, while Mane reigns supreme: more complete, more versatile, more powerful.

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Dec 27, 10:55 AM

Hmmm nice one