Jurgen Klopp lays down Ballon d'Or challenge to Sadio Mane

Tom Gott
Mane was named AFCON's MVP
Mane was named AFCON's MVP / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Jurgen Klopp has challenged Liverpool winger Sadio Mane to build on his African Cup of Nations triumph and force his way into the Ballon d'Or conversation.

Mane was named AFCON's Most Valuable Player as he bagged three goals and two assists to lead Senegal to glory, even stepping up to score the decisive penalty in the final shoot-out against Mohamed Salah's Egypt.

Klopp was asked whether Mane's international heroics should propel him into the Ballon d'Or conversation, but the boss acknowledged that the 29-year-old, who did not make it into the top 30 for 2021's award, may need more success at club level before he starts dreaming about that.

“I have no idea,” Klopp said of Mane's chances. “I think it depends a lot about the season - and usually you have to win the Champions League. I can’t remember who votes for what, but that’s how it seems to work.

“But I couldn’t have more respect for what Sadio did. He is, for sure, now one of the biggest Senegal legends of all-time - and rightly so. The pressure on his shoulders was absolutely incredible.

“I usually have no problem with facing pressure but, when he walked to the penalty, I thought that was a really difficult moment in life! He faced it, he mastered it, and rightly got all the praise.

“He was the best player of the tournament. An incredible achievement for him, an incredible achievement for Senegal.”

Mane, who will return for Liverpool against Burnley on Sunday, was given extra time off to celebrate his success, and Klopp confessed he is expecting big things from the winger.

“We just thought it’s absolutely right to let Sadio to celebrate as long as he wants," the boss continued. “We all know Sadio doesn’t drink a sip of alcohol, so it’s not that he was running around through the city and doesn’t know where he wakes up.

“It was a massive thing. I saw the pictures with the president of Senegal, the people in the streets, it’s a massive achievement. It makes it even more funny what people made of my earlier comments this year.

"It was the big tournament - we knew before - and for Sadio it was the biggest of his life or his life so far. For him as a person, 100% he made a massive step.

“He was a great player, a world-class player when he left here for the tournament, but he comes back as a leader on a different level, I have to say.”