Together, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have lifted the Premier League and the Champions League for Liverpool, but only one can fulfill their dreams on the international stage when they meet in the African Cup of Nations final on Sunday. Mane’s Senegal are the top-ranked team in Africa but have never been crowned continental champions. By contrast, seven-time champion Egypt has won the tournament more times than any other nation, but its last success came before Salah’s debut in 2011. Egypt’s greatest ever player said earlier in the tournament that lifting the trophy in Yaoundé on Sunday as captain will mean even more than the success that has made him a world star at club level.
Salah would then have the international medal to go along with his brilliant goalscoring form this season to bolster his chances of being crowned the first African player to win the Ballon d’Or since 1995 and only second all-time after Liberia’s George Weah. .
The pharaohs have needed a sprinkling of Salah’s stardust to liven up an uninspired run in Cameroon.
He scored and assisted on the winning goal to beat Morocco 2-1 in the quarter-finals, both sides of 0-0 draws with Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon decided on penalties.
Salah’s 23 goals in 26 appearances for Liverpool this season have sparked outrage and fear among some at Anfield over his contractual status, whose contract expires in the summer of 2023.
The same applies to Mane, however, who not for the first time in his Liverpool career is entitled to feel slighted given the spotlight on Salah.
Mane also has over 100 goals for Liverpool since he joined from Southampton in 2016 and was instrumental in helping Jurgen Kopp’s men win the Champions League and Premier League back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020.
At times, Mane’s frustration at Salah’s selfishness has boiled over.
After being substituted in a 3-0 win at Burnley in 2019, Mane had to be held back by his team-mates as he raged at Klopp to berate Salah for not giving him a simple chance moments earlier.
“I was a bit frustrated because it’s football and I wanted to score more goals,” Mane said afterwards. “He is forgotten and behind us.”
Despite Salah’s star status, there are divided loyalties among staff and fans on Merseyside given Mane’s popularity.
“Now obviously it’s not that easy because one will definitely be very happy afterwards and the other much less so,” Klopp said on Friday. “But they both have a good shot at something really big.”
Mane hasn’t been at his best for the Reds this season, but he shone in an eventful run to the finals for the Lions of Teranga.
He was forced to retire with a suspected concussion moments after scoring a sublime opening goal against Cape Verde in the round of 16.
But he hasn’t lost another minute as Aliou Cissé’s men have reached their best form late in the tournament with 3-1 wins over Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Egypt pose a much more difficult task, but the prospect of Mane putting Salah in their shadow for once would make victory all the sweeter for the Senegal icon.