Sadio Mane and N’golo Kante could have been born thousands of miles apart; one into the stifling poverty of Bambali in Senegal and the other into the low-class, grinding ghetto, but relative safety of France’s developed economy.
However, both men could also have been twins; with their shared personal culture of handwork and modesty rooted in their Muslim background and Manding ancestry. NewDay profiles Football’s most humble heroes.
(Articles are adapted from several Internet sources.)
Once when Sadio Mane scored the fastest ever Premier League hat- trick, “I got lucky again,” said. “I don’t even know how long it took. It was just a goal for the team.” Yet, that feat was history; it was a record that still stands to this day.
But his humility refused to accept the well-deserved fanfare. Proud, yes, but typically modest. And that unassuming nature has no doubt played a major part in Mane’s continued success at the top of the game.
When Senegal qualified for the 2018 World Cup and were judged to be Africa’s greatest hope in the competition, every preview focused on their talisman and greatest talent.
Having helped take Liverpool to the Champions League final and secured their place in the competition for 2018-19, the pressure on Mane was ramped up further still. From a city counting on you, to an entire country.
The key lies in understanding your responsibility without letting it drag you down. It is an incredibly difficult balance to pull off, but there are few better than Mane at doing exactly that.
He is a smiling footballer, with an appreciation of how fortunate he is to be such an important cog for club, city and nation. He embraces the pressure.
It is hard to imagine a humbler footballer. If Mane is a superstar in talent, there are none of the airs and graces that can so often accompany the most able. He shuns parties and nights out in favour of a quiet, reserved, family life.
Even as he made recent headlines donating schools, hospitals and other amenities worth hundreds of thousands of Pounds Sterlings in his village of Bambali, the images that went viral were those of a mango-eating village man at peace and ease with his friends and family.
Left to Mane, he’d prefer such kindness to fly under the radar. He sees such donations – and there are many more – not as wild acts of generosity, but as his duty. His aim is to inspire the next generation of Sadio Manes.
In fact, there is a sense that Mane does not quite realise how good he is, but his managers certainly do. “He is an outstanding player, I never had any other opinion,” said Jurgen Klopp. ”
He needed more confidence when he came in, the start was really good but I think he was a bit surprised by himself. He needed to get used to the fact that he is a world-class player.”
Aliou Cisse, his national team coach over the last three years, agrees. “I don’t want to say he could become one of the best players in the world,” Cisse said before the World Cup. “Because he is already one of the best – you have to stress this.”
Mane’s humility comes from experience. His career could so easily have failed to get off the ground. Playing on the roads of Bambali as a child it was clear that he had a special talent, but his family preferred him to become a teacher.
No child from Bambali had ever progressed to top-flight professional football. The lack of precedent made Mane’s ambition seem like fairytale.
The story is extraordinary. Having failed to receive the support of his family, he packed a bag and ran away from home, heading to Dakar, Senegal’s capital, to attend a trial. Mane played in torn boots and was viewed as an outsider by coaches.
But his talent shone through and forced them to re-evaluate their opinions. Talent overcoming all roadblocks would become a theme of his career.
Having been taken on by Generation Foot in Dakar, Mane knew that he would have to leave his country of birth to stand any chance of reaching the top. When French Ligue 2 side Metz expressed an interest, he was in no doubt where his future would lie.
Again, he made the decision without telling his family. That takes enormous courage, but it also highlights the drive to succeed that has made Mane unstoppable.
How else could a small boy from a Senegalese village, almost 300 miles from the country’s capital, and a million miles from the Premier league’s glitz and glamour, make than with a determination that sets him apart from the rest?
To be a successful trailblazer, you must break down walls. To break down walls, you must steel yourself for the impact.
“I knew I was going to be a football player, I just didn’t know how,” Mane told Sky Sports in August. “It was the only thing I was doing, the only thing that I knew. Always training, training, training, training.”
Therein lies the mantra of Mane’s career. If the natural talent was always obvious – tremendous speed, fine dribbling and excellent finishing – it has been underpinned by a will to improve and an openness to learn from every source. It is the desire to be the best he can be – and continue to improve.
It is easy to sell fate as good luck, but that can quickly be dismissed. Even if Mane considers himself to be incredibly fortunate, his rise is not down to chance. That would do a disservice to his extraordinary will to maximise his own ability.
But then that’s not really Mane’s style. His journey from Bambali to the pinnacle of the Premier League is remarkable, but he’s not about to sit back and admire his own handiwork.
In every training session, every match and every season, Mane will strive for bigger and better. That’s exactly what has brought him this far.
Ngolo Kante was born at the other end of the world, in France; far away from the privations that could have trapped Sadio Mane’s talents from flourishing; yet like Mane, he has also remained grounded; humble, modest, living an understated lifestyle and shunning the trappings of extravagance that has become hallmark for most successful sportsmen.
Kante has become– an unlikely and rare hybrid of both a truly sensational player and a genuine cult hero.
He has won almost every honour there is to win in football; a Premier League winner in 2016 and ’17, with Leicester then Chelsea.
A World Cup winner in 2018 with France. A Europa League winner in 2019. Now, a European champion. He is the first player since French compatriot Eric Cantona to win the Premier League in successive seasons with two different clubs…and all that with that beaming smile on his face.
Asked if Kante is the best player in the world, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta was in no doubt: “It’s straightforward, yes.” At the moment, it’s hard to argue.
Kante was voted man of the match by UEFA’s technical observers in both legs of Chelsea’s semifinal against Real Madrid, and again in the 1-0 win over Manchester City in the final.
He made 10 ball recoveries, more than any other player. He won all three tackles he attempted — including a key one to snuff out Kevin De Bruyne as he approached Chelsea’s box early in the second half.
Then there were his surging runs forward, leading the counterattack. In a match where so much focus was on City manager Pep Guardiola’s decision to not play a specialist defensive midfielder, Kante produced a clinic in that position once again.
“He does everything,” Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said. “The energy he brings, I don’t know how he does it. He covers so much ground.
“It’s special to have him and when we don’t have him we missed him. After winning the World Cup, the Champions League, he’s so humble in his position.”
Tuchel has said before that he was bestowed a gift when he arrived at Chelsea in January to be handed a squad containing Kante.
“I think N’Golo fits into any manager’s plans on the planet,” said Tuchel, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund manager.
It will not be a surprise to see Kante voted the FIFA player of the year for the first time, especially if he helps France to win the Euros.
He has already won the biggest personal award in English soccer, the PFA player of the year in 2016 on the back of Leicester’s title win.
At Leicester, the story goes, he used to run to training while others arrived in their flashy cars and kept going to the same hairdresser, paying 10 pounds for a trim.
That humble side of Kante hasn’t changed, even as he adds Champions League winner to his lengthy list of accomplishments.
Many of his teammates and coaches have in fact said he fulfils the number six, eight and ten roles all at one time.
Frank Lampard for example claimed he’s probably the best central midfielder on the planet right now…and despite all that relentless praise, Kante isn’t ever fazed. If anything, all he does is rubbish the claims– as he would.
“My current form? I am flourishing, but I don’t feel like the best player in the Premier League. There are a lot of good players. A lot of guys would deserve that title on my team,” he would say.
His comparisons with Claude Makelele are obvious but Kante is now proving he’s of a different breed, offering considerably more in the final third than the Chelsea legend ever did.
The tough-tackling, mini-driving phenomenon is an oxymoron, but his on-field style matched with his off-field demeanour means he’s captured the hearts of everyone.
A true, modern legend…