Sadio Mane. Every superhero has a backstory. Personal tragedy, often at a young age; a long journey from a faraway place; and, finally, the discovery and harnessing of their power to transform the world around them.
A new documentary about Liverpool football star Sadio Mane does not claim to be a superhero film, but “Made in Senegal” could arguably serve as the blueprint for a compelling Marvel film.
It’s the story of a young boy with a dream, a boy without a father, growing up in a remote part of Senegal and rising to become one of the world’s best and most famous players despite seemingly impossible odds.
Life in the village of Bambali was difficult, and Mane makes it clear in the film that farming would have been Sadio’s only option.
He was surrounded by football, however, as his uncle’s team practiced just yards away from his house. Despite the fact that they weren’t a particularly good team, Mane aspired to be a part of it; “people found me abnormal,” he said because he practiced football in the dust with grapefruits or stones because footballs were so scarce.
The Athletic sent football writer Oliver Kay to Mane’s home village in 2019 to research his background, and the football writer said it was even more isolated than he could have imagined.
“It really is the far reaches of the universe,” Kay told CNN Sport via Webex, adding that the nearest city was three hours away. Dakar, the capital, is seven hours away. The kids climbed over the local well and chased chickens; there was no indication of a professional coaching setup or academy; the odds were stacked against him.”
Sadio Mane celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal against Bournemouth at Anfield on March 7, 2020.
I couldn’t really grasp it Sadio Mane
Mane’s life became even more difficult when he was only seven years old.
“We were about to start playing on the field when a cousin approached me and said, ‘Sadio, your father has died.’ ‘Oh really?’ I replied. I thought to myself, he’s joking, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. We tried traditional medicine because there was no hospital and he had a stomach ache. They took him to a village, where he died.”
Sadio had made a name for himself by the age of 15. Friends referred to the best player in his village, if not the region, as ‘ballonbuwa’ — the ball wizard.
But the roadblocks to his dreams were not only geographical; they were also much closer to home. Mane stated bluntly in “Made in Senegal”: “Nobody in my family wanted me to become a footballer.” The Mane family is Bambali’s imams, and many members of the family dislike football. “There was no way they were going to let me go, not in my lifetime,” the 28-year-old star says.
That’s why he fled under the cover of darkness, packing his belongings at 6 a.m. and boarding a bus to Dakar. He didn’t have any identification when he arrived at the Gambian border, but he was allowed to pass through with his student papers.
He was living the dream in the capital, but his family was worried sick. They tracked him down and dragged him back to the village after a week; “it was the worst day of my life, I felt hatred for my family.” But he agreed to return on one condition: he would only attend school for one more year, after which he would be free to pursue football.
Mane challenges Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United at Anfield on January 19, 2020.
Many players’ careers have ebbs and flows, but not Mane’s, as Oliver Kay puts it. “It’s like snakes and ladders; people may climb but then fall. But his rise has been spectacular, and he never appears to have reached a plateau.”
From scoring four goals in his first game at Senegal’s ‘Generation Foot’ academy to making football look like a video game in front of a visiting Metz scout. Mane began his professional career in the French second division before moving to Austria and winning the league and cup double with RB Salzburg.