Jurgen Klopp wanted to punch himself after huge mistake about Liverpool icon in transfer talks

Jurgen Klopp embraces Sadio Mane after the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool FC at St James' Park on May 04, 2019
-Credit: (Image: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Sadio Mane's move away from Liverpool hasn't panned out quite as he would've liked.

Having won everything there was to win at Anfield, the 32-year-old called time on his Reds career two years ago in favour of a £35m switch to Bavaria. But while he would win the Bundesliga title in his first season in Germany, his maiden campaign ultimately proved to be disappointing.

The forward made 38 appearances for Bayern, scoring 12 goals. Yet he only made 25 Bundesliga outings, and 27 starts in all competitions, as, not helped by injury, he failed to find his best form. A dressing room altercation with team-mate Leroy Sane would see the forward suspended for one match back, sparking suggestions he would move on.

In the end, Mane would follow the influx of high-profile footballers moving to Saudi Arabia, joining Al Nassr.

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Kopites waved off the forward with a heavy heart, having seen him score 120 goals during his six seasons on Merseyside to first fire Liverpool back into the Champions League for only the second time since 2009, before helping them win six trophies and be crowned champions of England, Europe and the world.

Aged 30 with a year left on his contract, admittedly it was only a matter of time before the Reds had to consider a future without the forward. At least his flailing fortunes in Germany can leave Liverpool bosses consoled by the fact they have enjoyed Mane’s peak years before selling him at a profit.

With Roberto Firmino already on their books, the Senegal international was the second part of the Reds’ attacking puzzle when signed from Southampton in the summer of 2016. With Mohamed Salah joining the following year, Jurgen Klopp put together the best front-line in Europe that conquered all before them.

Mane was actually Klopp’s first marquee signing at Anfield as he sought to turn doubters into believers, brought in at the start of the German’s first full season at the club. And his desire to sign the Senegalese from the Saints as he looked to bolster his attack stemmed from a previous transfer misfire which left the Liverpool boss admitting he could have punched himself.

Having tracked Mane’s progress since an impressive showing in the 2012 London Olympics, Klopp has first considered signing Mane when Borussia Dortmund manager and even held talks with the then RB Salzburg player over a possible move to the Westfalenstadion in 2014. However, on the occasion he decided the player wasn’t for him before swiftly realising he had made a dreadful error.

“I made a mistake,” said Klopp. “We met each other, we talked but by the end I didn’t feel it. I like the player, it was more of a feeling.

“His baseball cap was askew, the blond streak he still has today. He looked like a rapper just starting out. I thought, ‘I don’t have time for this’. I’d say I have a pretty good feeling for people, but was I wrong!

“At Dortmund we could only get one player for this position, not two or three, so it needed to be exactly the right fit in this moment. About three months later I would have punched myself, so I already knew that the next chance I have, I would take it.

“It was a pretty simple decision with Sadio. When the club came this summer and Michael Edwards said we have an opportunity, there were no talks necessary any more. It was a case of ‘Let’s do it’.

“Since I came here I have spoken to the staff a lot about him and have always felt he could be a very good signing for us. He would have been more expensive if we had taken him to Dortmund and then he had been sold to Liverpool, so all good for Liverpool. The more I think about it, that was my first Liverpool decision. Nice!”

Dortmund’s loss was Liverpool’s gain as Klopp made sure he got his man in 2016, even stealing him from under the noses of Manchester United in the process. And the German would apologise to the forward in a secret phone call when trying to persuade him to join him at Anfield.

“I have to say I was really close to going to Manchester United,” Mane admitted in an interview with the Telegraph when recalling his decision to join Liverpool. “I had the contract there. I had it all agreed. It was all ready.

“I still remember the first time I got the call from Klopp. I was watching TV. It was an action movie - because I love movies - and he said, ‘Sadio, listen, I want to explain to you what happened at Dortmund.’

“That was when he thought of signing me for Dortmund and for some reason it didn’t work out. He tried to explain and I said, “‘It’s okay, it happened.’ I forgave him. Then he said, ‘Now I want you at Liverpool.” And I said, “Okay, Dortmund is behind us, let’s focus on the future.’”

Eight years on from his failed move to Dortmund, Mane belatedly got a transfer to the Bundesliga, but only after enjoying his peak years at Liverpool under Klopp. And while the German would inevitably have preferred the forward to stay put at Anfield, he was at least able to put right the decision that left him wanting to punch himself all those years ago.

But while Mane will be looking to rediscover his best Reds form elsewhere, the chances of a move big to a high-profile club in the Premier League appear to be dashed. As much as Klopp wanted to punch himself for not signing the forward first time around, such an itch was suitably scratched by six trophy-laden years on Merseyside.

And even if the 32-year-old did return to the Premier League and ended up haunting his former club, you can't foresee new head coach Arne Slot kicking himself at not making a move.

A version of this article was first published in June 2022.