Mane leaving Liverpool: How we got here, how much Bayern should pay, and then

With a red baseball cap perched on his head and a liverpool scarf wrapped around his neck, Sadio Mane greeted his adoring audience as he paraded around town on Sunday in an open-top bus. In his mind, it was goodbye.

The Senegal international, who has just 12 months left on his contract, has decided the time has come for a new challenge this summer after six years at Anfield. Bayern Munich are big favorites to secure his signature as they target a replacement for outgoing Robert Lewandowski.

This is not the news Liverpool supporters wanted to hear following the devastating events of Saturday Champions League final defeat against real Madrid in Paris.

Whether Mohammad Salah lit up the first half of the season, the second half belonged to Mane. He scored 13 of his 23 goals after coming back triumphant after sending Senegal back to Africa Cup of Nations glory.

Mane thrived after being moved into the number nine role by Jurgen Klopp following the arrival of Luis Diaz from Porto. Earlier this month his manager described him as “a machine” and “world class” after keeping the title race alive by driving home the winner. AstonVilla.

Prior to that, he had made a host of vital contributions – from equalizing at the Etihad to winning a brace against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final. In the Champions League, he scored for Benfica in the first leg of the quarter-final and then in both semi-final matches against Villarreal.

Mane was Liverpool’s best player in the second half of the season (Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The 30-year-old has proven beyond any doubt that he still has a lot to offer. He was a resurgent force rather than a fading force.

Having failed to agree an extension with him during this season, Liverpool knew there was always a danger that another member of Europe’s elite would take advantage of the situation and turn their heads.

May Mane get his wish and move to the Bundesliga depends on what kind of fee Bayern are willing to pay. New sporting director Julian Ward will lead a tough negotiation. There are no guarantees.

Senior Anfield sources have dismissed suggestions in Germany that a deal could be done for around €30m (£25.5m). Liverpool believe it would be better to keep Mane for another 12 months and lose him for nothing in 2023 than to do business for it. Liverpool value him at around €50m (£42.5m) and they would need a suitable replacement lined up before sanctioning a sale.

With Divock Original go on a free transfer to AC Milan and Liverpool ready to listen to offers for Japan international Takumi Minamino, they definitely need at least one more striker. The arrival of Fabio Carvalho from Fulham will help but it would be a mistake to expect too much, too soon from the adolescent.

Mane’s departure would mark the end of an era at Anfield. He was the first transformative signing of Klopp’s reign. The quality injection he provided after his £34m move from Southampton in 2016 helped Liverpool regain Champions League glamour. This gave them both the wealth and the power of attraction to attract first Mohamed Salah and then Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.

Having initially played on the right, Mane showed his versatility by switching to the left to accommodate Salah. Now it is equally accomplished by operating in the middle. Few have his skills.

The powerful three-pronged attack he formed with Salah and Roberto Firmino fired Liverpool in the Champions League and premier league glory.

Next month, Salah will be 30 years old. Mane reached the historic birthday in April and Firmino turns 31 in October. All three have deals that last until 2023 and managing their contract situations has been an ongoing dilemma.

Mane played in the middle once Diaz arrived (Picture: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Renewing all three was always unlikely given that it would involve committing huge sums of money in salaries until their mid-30s. Allowing all three to leave in the same window would still be considered nonsense given the challenge of trying to replace them all in one go. It had to be staggered.

Keeping Salah has been the owners’ priority but talks have stalled midway through this season. The Egyptian isn’t going anywhere this summer but unless a compromise is found he will leave as a free agent at the end of 2022-23.

Klopp’s front line has evolved over the past two years with the impact of the first Diogo Jota then Diaz. The old guard has already been broken. Liverpool’s record in the transfer market is such that you’d back their recruitment staff to identify another gem.

But if this is the end of the road for Mane at Anfield, he will be greatly missed. Only 13 players in the club’s history have bettered its 120-goal run. He is a legend for what he achieved at Liverpool, but the sadness will also come from the belief that there is still plenty left in the tank. He’s not a player in his own right looking to get more involved elsewhere, he’s the man who led the line in club football’s greatest game.

“Come back to me after Saturday and I’ll give you the best answer you want to hear, that’s for sure. It’s special,” smiled Mane during last week’s media day at the AXA training center when asked about his future. “I’ll give you anything you want to hear then.”

Mane didn’t stop talking to the media after the Champions League final, but his decision was already made. He has given so much to Liverpool for so long that his legacy will live on. He will always be welcomed with open arms. If Bayern get their man, Liverpool will have big boots to fill.

(Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

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