Sadio Mane could win the AFCON, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Champions League this year but history, and voting records, suggest he is unlikely to win the Ballon d’Or – with George Weah the only African to win award
Sadio Mane has always had the ability to dream big…and he had to, as a kid who couldn’t have been further away from a football future.
His dreams persuaded him to run away from his tiny village in the south of Senegal, hiding his bag at the end of the lawn so he could sneak out in the early hours on his way to the capital Dakar. Those dreams eventually took him to Premier League and Champions League glory, but only after a tortuous route, via the Generation Foot Academy, their links with French club Metz, and then Austria with Red Bull Salzburg.
He would be the first to admit that dream he had as a kid has fulfilled in glorious fashion, but now he has another…to right the wrongs of apparent racism against his continent. Only one African footballer has won the Ballon d’Or, but this year, after steering his country to Africa Cup of Nations glory, and two trophies in England, the honour is finally close again for a player from the Africa continent.
The Champions League final will surely decide it, with Mane and his team-mate Mo Salah facing off against this year’s favourite Karim Benzema. And the forward says he is still dreaming. “Two finals is something but you have to dream big and I am a player who dreams big. Playing a Champions League final I think is special and we need to make it even more special,” he explained.
“Winning the Africa Cup is one of the greatest moments, for sure. Honestly, I’m really enjoying every single moment. The Champions League final will make it even more special when we win it! We all have our targets, to go for all the trophies, to win the Champions League, which would be special. For me it would be even more special to have another bonus which is the Ballon d’Or, and I would be the most happy player in the world. But for that, you guys have to decide!!”
Mane would be a popular winner, but it is clear he is up against what seems like an obvious bias against players of African descent, with George Weah the only winner, in 1995. Zinedine Zidane, who hails from Marseille but has parents of Algerian descent, strangely, won it only once, in 1998.
Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
Since 1995, No player from the African continent has even finished in the top three, with Mo Salah and Mane himself only ever finishing fourth, despite their stellar success with Liverpool, and their nations. Clearly Mane thinks that’s simply unbelievable, and unacceptable, as do so many people in football. And when it was suggested there was a biased element in the voting, he said:
“It’s true. If you guys say it, what can I say myself? Which is sad. The Africa Cup of Nations is one of the biggest for myself, it is the biggest trophy I have won in my life, and for an African player not to have won the Ballon d’Or since George Weah it is sad for sure.”
Mane agreed that the Champions League final is likely to play a decisive role in the award this season, and he knows he can have a huge say in its destination, with another fine performance on the world stage. He scored in his first Champions League final, a defeat to Madrid, and won a penalty in his second which was the decisive goal in the triumph over Tottenham, so what is the plan for the third? “I think (this time) to score the goal and win the final!”
And Mane is not afraid to win it on penalties. He missed the fifth penalty for Liverpool in the Fa Cup final against Chelsea, but before that, won the Africa Cup of Nations for Senegal with the decisive penalty, and after that, won a World Cup qualifying play off against Salah”s Egypt for his country, with the fifth pen.
And he said: “We are fully prepared for it if it happens but we would love to win it in 90 minutes. Of course (another penalty) – there is a long story with Sadio and penalties but I never give up I will score the decisive penalty again.”