Liverpool might lose out temporarily but they're onto a winner with Sadio Mane

Senegalese forward has already made an impact although he now goes to the Africa Cup of Nations

BY Raf Diallo 11:30 Monday 2 January 2017, 11:30 2 Jan 2017

A flare is thrown onto the pitch as Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Picture by Martin Rickett PA Wire/PA Images

As a wide attacker, Sadio Mane has always had all the raw materials.

He has pace, a bit of trickery and could find the net like the hat-trick he scored for Southampton against Manchester City last May.

At least in front of goal though, consistency had been an issue at Saints. Granted, consistency is an odd term to use when discussing a 24-year-old who hit double figures in both of his seasons with Southampton.

Ten goals in the 2014-15 season - a debut Premier League campaign after a £12 million move from Austria's Red Bull Salzburg - were followed up by 11 last season.

That's a very healthy goal return for a player who nominally plays out wide, as a winger or inside forward.

The potential has always been there, as Red Bull found out in their own right when he plundered 31 league goals in 63 games in Austria.

And he is also part of a small but significant generation of leading Senegalese players who came through the Académie Génération Foot.

The exploits of graduates like Mane, West Ham's Diafra Sakho and then Newcastle forward Papiss Cisse caught The Guardian's eye to the point that they examined why the academy was bearing elite fruit.

At Southampton

Just as back then, Mane is shining brightest and since moving from Southampton for more than £30 million, it is Liverpool who are benefiting this season.

Although the potential was clear, the occasional inconsistency had made Jurgen Klopp's decision to spend big appear risky.

But eight league goals in 16 matches, including the winner in the recent Merseyside derby win, has proven those worries to be misguided.

Indeed he hit the ground running with an outstanding solo goal and finish in Liverpool's opening weekend win over Arsenal.

But more importantly than the individual impact, he has dovetailed beautifully in a fluid forward trio with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, with his ability to cut inside, dart wide and finish complementing his team-mate's skills.

Creativity is also part of his game, with four assists and just over 1.5 key passes per league match to his name already.

The unfortunate part - from a Liverpool perspective - is that Mane temporarily has other commitments to take care of as he joins the Senegal squad for this month's Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.

In the event, the Teranga Lions were to reach the final on February 5th, Mane would be away from Anfield for the guts of six weeks.

It was always on the horizon so Liverpool and Klopp knew it was an absence they had to cope with. Perhaps at the start of the season, it was just unclear how big a blow his absence would be - notwithstanding that Liverpool have coped reasonably well while Coutinho has been injured as the Reds continue their attempt to bring back a first league title to Anfield in 27 years.

But while they lose out short-term while he is away, Mane's long-term potential is "enormous," according to his Generation Foot academy coach who told The Guardian back in 2014 that "Sadio still has a long way to go before reaching his peak".

A frightening prospect for opposition defences if that comes true, and if the last few months have been a taster of what is to come.

But already in 16 Premier League games, Mane has eclipsed his compatriot El Hadji Diouf's all-time haul of three goals (over two years) for Liverpool and endeared himself to the fans.

"Start as you mean to go on" will be the hope for the supporters.

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