Sadio Mane won African footballer of the year

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The Senegal international performed to a ridiculously high level in 2019, and there is a lot more to appreciate beyond just the numbers.

It’s taken four tries, the Uefa Champions League trophy, a runner-up finish at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Premier League Golden Boot and an almost perfect first half of the 2019/20 season for Sadio Mane to finally be named African Footballer of the Year.

Between them, Riyad Mahrez and Mohamed Salah had won the last three gongs, garlanded and holding their baubles aloft while Mane played the role of conscientious bridesmaid: toothsome, but with an underlying determination to finally catch the bouquet.

Neither of the two returned the favor this time. In the Senegal international’s moment in the spotlight, he was conspicuously alone; as he received the award, Mahrez was busy putting Manchester City two goals up on their mute and now-infirm neighbors United in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final.

When Mane asserted during his private post-Awards photoshoot, “Am. No. King” (per CAF’s social media accounts), it was sort of fitting: every regent needs a court to attend him, after all.

To be clear, it did little to detract from what the Liverpool man achieved in 2019, even though it may have left the organizers feeling a little miffed.

Mane may have only placed fourth in the Ballon D’Or voting, but it was telling that even that finish was widely considered an injustice. No less than Lionel Messi, who claimed his sixth, was on board the Senegal international’s bandwagon, voting Mane to win ahead of his Liverpool teammate Virgil Van Dijk and, most tellingly, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The common refrain, and perhaps the unanswerable football question of 2019, went thus: if Ronaldo and Mane had had their years reversed, would the placement have been the same?

Of course, there was an uncomfortable body-swap subtext to that line of questioning, but even outside the narrow brackets of profile and nationality, there were few in the calendar year who were as clutch as Mane, few as elemental to their team’s success whatever the frame of reference: club and international level alike.

The numbers bear this out, but also somewhat trivialize it.

2019 was the year when the world began to truly fear him. Where once there was respect, now there is now unabashed terror, and yet it is difficult not to love him. He does it all with a smile, finishes with precision, celebrates with a flourish.

He unites uneasy bedfellows too: there will not be many things on which the Kop and El Hadji Diouf agree, but they share an appreciation of one of the most complete footballers in the game.

There seemingly is nothing that Sadio Mane cannot – and did not – do to a ridiculously high level.

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