After 53 minutes of strict organisation and pressing had passed, Southampton’s moment to capitalise arrived.
Third choice Gunners centre-half Gabriel Paulista lazily dragged the ball across the middle of the park and there was Sadio Mane to pick the ball up on the halfway line. Bounding toward the goal, Mane placed Koscielny on the back foot and forced himself an opening to the right-side of the box. But as he reached the 18-yard line, he scuffed it. With no balance and a weakly hit strike, the ball simply rolled into the hands of Cech. Sadly, this has been the Sadio Mane of recent weeks. And luckily for us, this is why Mane’s not yet ready for his dream move.
Unlike most that are labelled as “wantaway” players, it’s not Mane’s effort levels that I’m criticising. In fact, as wingers come, few can match Mane’s defensive contribution. Fans know each and every week that when the Senegalese International is on the pitch, we will be receiving nothing less than 100%. As fans, that’s all we can ask for.
However, when I see Mane being mentioned as the world class player that Manchester United need, I can’t help but question why and how.
Rather like Yannick Bolasie – another player that is continuously linked with a “big” move away – he is exciting and thrilling to watch from the terrace. His skills are dazzling, he can single-handedly win games and he can leave you laughing at the humiliation that he has just put poor Sunderland through. But, if they can still bring frustration to fans of mid-table sides, then they certainly aren’t ready for the heights of Champions League football.
We as fans of a mid-table team have the patience that allows a raw talent to flourish, and unsurprisingly, we have a lower expectation of performance in comparison to fans of clubs such as Manchester United. Those dodgy touches, wasted chances and poor decisions by Mane would get chewed up and spat out on the big stage. Simply look at the decline of Memphis Depay – the incredibly talented Dutchman has been unable to deal with the immense pressure that comes with being a Red Devil.
Despite being gifted a number of routine 1 v 1’s, continually finding space between the defensive lines and having half chances carved out for him, Mane last hit the back of the net on the second of December against Liverpool. For someone who operates as a goalscoring winger and often partners the forward, no goals in 11 games is hardly Champions League form.
On his day, Mane is unstoppable, there is no doubting that. He can simply skip past defenders with the deftest of touches and appear to glide past full-backs without breaking a sweat. But at this point in his career, for every ten games of magic, were shown ten games of shanked shots, first touches that clang of his shin and over-running the ball for a goal-kick.
To play for one of Football’s greatest clubs, consistency is key. And at Manchester United, these dips in form will result in a reserved heated seat alongside Memphis and Fellaini. Whilst his movement, work-rate, ability and relentless efforts are always clear to see, Mane must develop that killer instinct to beat the final man and bury his chances. Doing so will help him reach the level he so desires.
Mane has the ability to make it to the top. Ronald Koeman’s thoughts on the winger and the interest from Bayern Munich/Manchester United reflect just that. But has anyone stopped to consider that Mane is currently playing at his level? Has anyone considered that a big move this summer could stunt his growth? After all, there is few better than Southampton at developing young stars into the best they can be.