Sadio Mane and Senegal’s World Cup worry: ‘He has to be there, he’s our Messi, Neymar, Mbappe’

The winning penalty to lift the Africa Cup of Nations, the final free kick to secure his country’s place at the Qatar World Cup, Senegal’s hopes rest on Sadio Mane.

So when the African Footballer of the Year went off injured 20 minutes after Bayern Munich’s 6-1 victory over Werder Bremen on Tuesday, 13 days before the World Cup, it’s no wonder the people of Senegal were worried.

On Wednesday, French outlet L’Equipe reported that Mane will miss the World Cup and is set to be out for several weeks.

Bayern Munich, however, haven’t gone that far, confirming the Ballon d’Or runner-up has suffered a right fibula injury and will miss Saturday’s game against Schalke with further tests to come.

The news prompted the country’s president, Macky Sall, to tweet: “Sadio, I wish you a speedy recovery from your injury. in the match Bayern-Werder Bremen. As I told you: Sadio, Lionheart! With all my heart with you! God bless you!”

The German club are in contact with the medical staff of the Senegalese Football Federation and it’s a race against time with their World Cup opener against the Netherlands on November 21.

If Mane misses the World Cup, it would be “catastrophic” according to Abdou Diatta, scout at the Generation Foot Academy in Dakar where Mane’s career began.

“He plays an extraordinary role for Senegal,” says Diatta. “If he’s not there, his teammates don’t really want to play. They want to be like him. He has an iron mentality and encourages his teammates to perform.

For now, the manager, Aliou Cissé, his team and the Senegalese people are waiting, praying with their fingers crossed.

“All Senegalese are devastated by this news,” said Saikou Seydi, a Senegalese journalist.

“Sadio Mane is everything to us. Everything we have done in football is thanks to him. He is the most loved and appreciated man in Senegal because beyond football, he is a good man. He has a big heart.”


Mane holds the CAN trophy in February (Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

A recipient of the first Socrates award at this year’s Ballon d’Or in recognition of his charity work in his home country, Mane is the pride of an entire nation.

“I can’t even compare him to any other current player,” says Aboubacry Ba, Senegalese writer for Cismedia.

“He goes beyond the highest level, for us he is the best of the best, unique. He is irreplaceable, on and off the pitch.

Among the Senegalese, the first reaction was concern, the second disbelief.

“People refuse to believe it’s true, not because they don’t believe the journalists, but because they don’t want to go to the World Cup without him,” says Seydi. “He’s out of the question. He’s our Messi, Neymar, Mbappe.

Following his £35million summer move from Liverpool to Bayern, Mane is far from his best form.

In September, Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann said the striker was still adjusting to his new team having not played often on the left under Jurgen Klopp last season, adding that the player had “so much invested for Liverpool”, perhaps hinting ominously at the physical strain he had been through with an intense Premier League campaign and a successful run to the AFCON final this year.

The 30-year-old was left out of the starting XI in Bayern’s 2-0 win over Hoffenheim in late October as he felt low on confidence, according to Nagelsmann. His performances, however, have been better in recent weeks, and Cameroon international Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting relieved Mane to lead the line.

Despite his inconsistency domestically, the absence of Senegal’s all-time top scorer would severely impact his country’s chances of success.

Senegal is approaching its third World Cup with serious ambitions. It is believed to be the best African team and could come out of Group A (Netherlands, Ecuador and Qatar) and go beyond the quarter-finals.

“We just say that because we have Sadio Mane,” explains Ba. “Without him, Senegal is not a good team, it becomes ordinary.

“Without Messi, Argentina is not a great team. Without Beckham, England was not the same team.

The last time Africa had such a huge injury scare was when Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast broke his elbow before the 2010 World Cup. Drogba underwent emergency surgery and played with a cast at the tournament, but Ba believes Mane’s impact on his team is far greater than Drogba’s.

“Sadio Mane, without exaggerating, represents 70% of the strength of Senegal,” says Ba.

“It’s clear in terms of performance and personality. He’s someone who, even when he’s not in good shape, can play.

Without their talisman, Senegal could use Watford’s Ismaila Sarr on the left, Monaco’s Krepin Diatta on the right and Sheffield United’s Iliman Ndiaye as number 10 behind a striker like Villarreal’s Boulaye Dia.

But it’s not just about replacing one player with another.

“Sadio Mane is irreplaceable in the hearts of Senegalese,” Ba says. “He represents everything. He’s not just a left-sided player who dribbles and scores. He’s almost the Senegal team.

(Photo: Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

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