As Sadio Mane celebrates his 28th birthday on Friday, fans of the Liverpool star will no doubt take a moment to appreciate the magical moments he has managed to deliver, while some will consider just how quickly he rose from relative obscurity to become one of the best players in the world.
One day in particular stands out in Mane’s trajectory as the one that provided the biggest push in his evolution, a day that offered an eye-opening glimpse of his potential greatness.
On May 14, 2015, Southampton FC lined up to face Aston Villa in their final home match of the season. As they had done 28 times before during their 20140-15 campaign, Senegalese forward Sadio Mane lined up at the top of the formation. Mane had been enjoying a respectable season. He scored seven times in his first season in the Premier League, but he wasn’t exactly a household name once you left the south coast of England.
That all changed over the course of the next 16 minutes. Mane opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a non stop effort that took him through two Villa defenders and goalkeeper Shay Given before tapping the ball into the empty net. Barely a minute later, Mane pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area after a poor backpass and smashed it into the empty goal again.
Finally, two minutes and 56 seconds after breaking the scoreless deadlock, he finished out a Southampton counterattack with a perfectly placed shot in the top corner. Sadio Mane, a little known striker freshly arrived in the Premier League from Red Bull Salzburg, had just scored the fastest hat trick in league history, shattering the previous record by nearly two minutes.
Mane went on to bag 11 goals for Southampton the following season and used that form to seal a big money move to Liverpool.
The £34 million fee made him the most expensive African player to date and he’s been worth every penny. In four years at Anfield, he has scored 77 goals in 161 games in all competitions. He has lifted the European Cup and is a major reason that Liverpool were on a record-setting pace before the season was suspended. His 22 goals a year ago tied for the best on the team and he has 14 so far this season, trailing only Mohamed Salah for the Liverpool lead.
Mane grew up in the remote town of Bambali in Senegal. He defied the wishes of his parents and pursued a career in soccer that took him to France, Austria, and then the Premier League. He’s now a superstar and one of the most recognizable players from Africa and nothing less than a national hero in Senegal.
Stardom has not clouded his memories though. Mane has made sure to remember where he came from. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that is taking its financial toll on the entire world, Mane donated about €50,000 to a Senagalese health body to fight the disease in his home country.
Helping fight the coronavirus outbreak isn’t the only way Mane helps out back in his homeland. He is donated significant chunks of cash to help build a school, a mosque, and a hospital in Bambali.
“The best thing you can do is remember your hometown," Mane told the Independent. “They need help and if I can, I do. That is important to me. I will always think about them. I feel strongly about this.”
Mane’s birthday celebration on Friday is sure to be a modest and low-key one, as most are during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that won’t keep Mane’s many admirers from taking a moment to celebrate the special player he has become, and the special person he continues to be.