Is Liverpool’s African Era coming to an end?

Liverpool‘s glittering ‘African era’ may be coming to an end after Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid was followed by reports that Sadio Mane is angling to leave Anfield.

Elsewhere, Pitso Mosimane’s run of consecutive CAF Champions League triumphs was halted in a controversial final defeat by Wydad Casablanca on Monday evening, while Saint-Etienne‘s African stars were barracked by their own fans after the Stephanois dropped out of French Ligue 1.

So long, Sadio?

In the months and years to come, the defining image of a miserable weekend for Liverpool may not feature the long and dangerous queues of spectators waiting in the sun outside the Stade de France, nor Vinicius Junior‘s decisive goal as the Champions League final was lost to Real Madrid, nor the flare-fuelled open-top celebrations in the city as they paraded the FA Cup and League Cup.

Instead, it may prove to be the image — beautifully captured — of Sadio Mane, mid-carnival, red Liverpool cap perched atop his head and scarf draped around his neck, crestfallen, clutching the EFL Cup and gazing solemnly into the distance.

While Trent Alexander-Arnold serenaded Reds fans with Dua Lipa’s One Kiss, and Jurgen Klopp waved to the adoring masses, Mane appeared to want little part of the charabanc.

ESPN reported on Sunday that the 30-year-old has decided to call time on his Merseyside sojourn, bringing to a close a remarkable six years at the club, and wrapping up an era that may be remembered as the most successful for African players at the pinnacle of the sport.

The reports are the latest chapter in Mane’s long-running contractual saga, with Liverpool unable to confirm the future of either the Senegal star or Mohamed Salah, both of whom are bound to the club only until the summer of 2023.

Before the showdown with Real Madrid, Mane had been cagey about what the future held — indicating that he would wait until after the match before showing his hand. However, he now appears keen on a new challenge.

Bayern Munich, believed by ESPN’s Mark Ogden to be keen on the forward, are one of only a handful of clubs worldwide that could be considered a realistic destination for the attacker, and we can expect intensive speculation about Mane’s next home over the coming weeks and months.

If this is the end, then the Champions League final was an underwhelming farewell from Mane to the club that has held him in such high esteem for more than half a decade, even if the movement, power and intensity that have made him so beloved were evident — – during the first half in particular.

He forced an early save from Man of the Match Thibaut Courtois, with the goalkeeper giving an indication of his inspired form, but there were only momentary flashes of excellence and evidence of the remarkable understanding with Salah that has underpinned Liverpool’s success under Klopp.

Mane was later picked out by Alexander-Arnold for the best chance of the first half — when he forced another fine save from Courtois, who deflected the effort onto his right post — but the Senegal talisman’s flickering threat faded in the second stanza.

Mane has followed in the footsteps of Riyad Mahrez and Lauren by winning the Africa Cup of Nations and the FA Cup in the same year, but victory on Saturday would have seen him become only the second player, after Geremi Njitap, to win AFCON and the UEFA Champions League in the same year — and the first to play in both winning finals.

He’s nonetheless come to the end of an outstanding season in which he had a hand in 18 Premier League goals and inspired Senegal past Egypt to reach the World Cup for the second successive edition.

His projected exit will bring to an end a remarkable period of African-driven success at Anfield, with Mane’s arrival in 2016 — the biggest signing of Klopp’s first summer in charge — coupled with Salah’s signing a year later setting the bedrock for a magnificent era.

The pair were influential as Liverpool reached the Champions League final in 2018, with Mane playing a major role in Salah’s 44-goal season and himself scoring nine goals in 10 matches en route to the final defeat.

Indeed, Mane’s goal against Real Madrid in Kyiv — after Salah had been substituted due to a shoulder injury — made him the fourth African player to score in a UCL final after Rabah Madjer, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o.

Salah duly became the fifth as Tottenham Hotspur were dispatched in Madrid 12 months later, with Mane winning the 24th-second penalty for the Reds after his pass struck Moussa Sissoko’s arm in the box; the Egyptian duly converted from the spot.

They were the architects of Liverpool’s sixth European Cup success, with Mane’s big performances en route to the final — who can forget his sensational display away at Bayern Munich — and they shared the Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals.

In 2020, they won the Premier League title together — Mane was named the Fans’ Player of the Year — before pushing Manchester City to the limit this term and reaching another Champions League final.

Never before have a pair of African players — together — been as influential in a major European club’s victories both domestically and continentally, while their supporting cast included ex-Cameroon international Joel MatipGuinea‘s Naby Keita and Franco-Malian Ibrahima Konate.

Mane and Salah this season overtook Drogba in the Premier League scoring charts to become the top two African scorers in the division, and both have been critical in Klopp conquering England and Europe with his specific brand of football.

“I remember this unbelievably talented boy that we could get from Southampton, outstanding skill-wise but a little lack of consistency,” Klopp said of Mane in 2020. “A lot of people thought ‘really, so much money, I’m not sure he’s worth it’, but we were 100% sure about him.

“Consistency was the key and now the level that he performs is unbelievable. He helps us massively, he’s the complete player — offensively and defensively he works hard.”

Not only has Mane been a figurehead of such a successful era, but he and Salah have been a symbol of Liverpool’s resurgence as a genuine force in European competition.

“He came in a really good player, now he is a world-class player, no doubt about that and he is a winner on top of that,” Klopp said.

Mane’s impact at Liverpool will never be forgotten.

Mosimane magic faded?

Like Mane, Al Ahly head coach Pitso Mosimane missed out on the chance to make history as his side lost to Wydad Casablanca in the CAF Champions League final — the biggest match of the African club football calendar.

The Red Devils had been looking to become the first side in the history of the competition — stretching back to 1967 — to have won the title three times in the row. Tout Puissant Mazembe, Esperance, Enyimba and Ahly themselves (on three occasions) have retained the title previously, but never before had an African side — nor African coach for that matter — completed the treble.

A double from wideman Zouhair El Moutaraji gave Wydad victory at Stade Mohammed V in Casablanca, as the Moroccan giants won the continental crown for the third time in their history — and the first since 2017.

After controversy about CAF’s choice of venue — Ahly failed in a bid to have the match moved to a neutral venue — Mosimane complained about the officiating during the contest.

“The referee should have kept time, as the referee himself replaced his watch in three minutes and the goalkeeper fell to the ground several times and wasted more than three minutes,” the former Mamelodi Sundowns head coach said after the match.

“[This was in] addition to the ball boys, who wasted a lot of time while returning the ball. This happened because Al-Ahly was playing the match on the opponent’s court; it was natural for Wydad to win in all these circumstances.”

Mosimane will now look to turn his attentions back to Ahly’s domestic campaign, where their four games in hand should allow them to overhaul SC Zamalek — currently seven points clear on the log — and take control of the title race.

Finally in France, where fallen giants Saint-Etienne tumbled out of the top flight — after two decades in Ligue 1 — when they were defeated by Auxerre in the relegation playoff.

While the fixture was overshadowed by the post-match pitch invasion, as flare-wielding supporters clashed with players, ASSE’s shootout defeat means relegation for some of Ligue 1’s most high-profile African players.

Captain Mahdi Camara cancelled out Hamza Sakhi ‘s opener but 2011 Algerian Footballer of the Year Ryad Boudebouz missed the decisive penalty in the shootout as the 10-time champions dropped out of the division.

Tunisia talisman Wahbi KhazriGabon wideman Denis Bouanga, Cameroon’s Harold Moukoudi and ex-Crystal Palace wideman Bakary Sako were all involved for the Stephanois, and it remains to be seen which of these international players will be at the club next term.

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