Southampton forward Sadio Mane is a burgeoning force this season and he might well be the man who can step into Wayne Rooney’s boots.
The 23-year-old Southampton forward was a reported target for Manchester United in the summer and they could reignite that interest when the transfer window opens again in January according to Friday morning’s press.
While that raised a few eyebrows earlier this summer, his rising prominence this season means he would be more than capable of transferring his talents to Old Trafford and those who were casting aspersions a few months ago are now nodding in agreement.
Mane looks the real deal and Ronald Koeman faces a fight to keep him at St Mary’s with Louis van Gaal once again believed to be tracking the Saints star with a view to making a January move for the player.
Van Gaal eventually plumped for Anthony Martial in the summer window, and while that has proved an inspired piece of business with Martial bursting on to the Premier League stage with some eye-catching displays, whether Van Gaal opted for Martial instead of Mane only he and his staff will know.
The Dutchman will certainly not regret the signing of Martial after his four goals to date, but he might now be considering adding Mane to his squad to complement Martial – especially after Mane’s impressive showing against United last month.
Whether or not Van Gaal sees Mane as the long-term replacement for the fading Rooney is open to debate, but one thing is for sure nobody, not even Van Gaal could have predicted the ineffectiveness of Rooney this season.
At 29, the England man should have plenty of gas left in the tank, but somewhat worryingly Rooney has been a passenger with games passing him by without even a hint of creative involvement. He has only managed one goal in the Premier League, but has scored a hat-trick in Europe and in the League Cup, while he has netted twice for England – but even his performances for the national team have lacked a spark.
There have been calls for him to be dropped at Old Trafford in a bid to kick-start his season, and while Van Gaal must be having sleepless nights over Rooney’s lack of form, could he be lining up a replacement for his No. 10 role?
If Van Gaal is contemplating the long-term axe for Rooney then Mane certainly fits the bill and he also fits with Van Gaal’s philosophy of building a young energetic team. Only Bastian Schweinsteiger of the outfield players signed this summer could be considered on a downward spiral with Martial (19), Matteo Darmian (25), Memphis Depay (21) and Morgan Schneiderlin (25) all on the up.
And Saints livewire Mane certainly fits into that bracket. He started out his career as a wide player and can obviously be a threat from natural wide positions, but he has developed flexibility in his game and is now a versatile attacking threat and can often be seen coming inside and directly threatening goal.
His link-up play has improved and while there have been question marks over his ability to sustain performances over 90 minutes, the prospect of Mane linking up with Martial, Mata, Depay and Rooney – the man he may well be earmarked to replace – looks a mouth-watering one.
8 – Sadio Mane has scored or assisted eight goals in his last five Premier League appearances at St. Mary’s (four goals, four assists). Main
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 26, 2015
He was in cruise control last weekend as he skated around Stamford Bridge and made John Terry’s return to the Chelsea ranks a nightmare. Little was made of Terry’s showing in the 3-1 defeat to Southampton, instead Jose Mourinho characteristically took the spotlight with his seven-minute post-match ramble.
Mourinho didn’t mention Terry’s performance and it was probably best he didn’t as Mane ran him ragged, scoring and generally causing the former England man all kinds of problems.
Let’s just put that display into perspective, because Terry was the stand-out defensive performer last season as the Blues marched to the title. And although his form this time around has been patchy and seen him dropped, he can still considered one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League.
Mane doesn’t have time for reputations, though, and he tore another strip off Terry’s, as Saints destroyed the champions with a clinical second-half display. He was classy in possession, quick on the break and clinical in the final third and that has been the story for Mane since the end of last season.
The Senegal star, who featured in the African Cup of Nations in January, started to impress towards the end of last term and his three-minute hat-trick in the hammering of Aston Villa is the quickest in Premier League history.
A barometer of his improvement is Koeman’s acceptance that the former Red Bull Salzburg man is now very much a target for the big boys after batting off potential interest in the summer.
“Maybe one day we will lose Mane but then we have to be prepared. You know in our situation that kind of players, if they play like today, there will come a lot of interest,” Koeman told the Daily Echo after the forward had dismantled Chelsea.
That stance is in stark contrast to the summer when Koeman was adamant the £11.8million recruit, who can play anywhere across the frontline, would not be sold.
“They will stay in Southampton, I’m 100 per cent sure about that. The same answer for Victor as for Sadio, we don’t sell that kind of player because they are key players for the team and they have to respect the contract. That’s most important,” Koeman claimed in August.
The speedy Mane, though, has made waves this season and with four assists and five goals in 11 matches he has stepped up his game from last season. Not that a 10-goal haul was particularly poor last term and he did score against Arsenal and Chelsea, but he has a certain swagger about him this time around and after putting Terry to the sword last week that will only increase.
Mane is under contract until the summer of 2018, although he is more than likely to have a release clause which will allow the likes of United to formally approach him. But if he continues his rapid development there is likely be more competition for his signature and any potential suitors will probably have to double the £11.8million Saints paid Salzburg for him in September 2014.
Even that would be a bargain considering his age and vast potential and United have already shown, in the signings of Martial (£58million) and Depay (£31million), they are more than willing to invest their money in young talent.
Do you think Mane’s displays this season make him a target for Manchester United? Is it fair to say he’d offer more in attack than a below-par Rooney? Join the debate in the return of our Your Say forums right here.