In Salzburg, Sadio Mané (30) once recommended himself for the Premier League. Red Bull sports director Christoph Freund explained to kicker how Bayern’s newcomer ended up there.
At RB Salzburg, Bayern newcomer Sadio Mané once played his way into the Premier League’s sights.
It almost doesn’t matter who you talk to about Sadio Mané these days. Whether it’s the people in charge at FC Bayern, former teammates or Christoph Freund, the current sports director of Red Bull Salzburg. Everyone can’t avoid turning up the corners of their mouths in a quick, contagious way. And to shine a little. Freund is still one of the few who, for once, could talk about a rather unpleasant chapter in the career of the obvious model boy. But he really doesn’t want that. “There is no bad word to say afterwards,” he says in an interview with kicker. He much prefers to remember the story of how it all began, rather than how it ended.
This story began in a place that Sadio Mané has come to know all too well over the past ten years. In the summer of 2012, when Ralf Rangnick was in the process of turning both RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg upside down in a managerial position, the then sports director, together with Freund, his unofficial right hand, took a very close look at the Senegal Olympic team in Manchester met the selection of Great Britain and got hold of a 1:1. Right in the middle: A fast and tricky, but rather weak number 10 in the white and green jersey. Who puts up a goal and leaves a chance a bit negligent. And who has no way of knowing that it would be the last time someone sneered at her at Old Trafford.
Freund: “We were totally convinced of Sadio”
Mané, who has just been relegated to the third French division with Metz, manages to draw attention to himself at this tournament. At least Freund and Rangnick are enthusiastic: “We noticed him right away,” remembers the former. The duo wait a few weeks and set off together in August for the north-east of France. Negotiations had already been made with FC Metz, Freund and Rangnick were given permission to wait for Mané in the catacombs after a third division game. “I can remember the first meeting well,” says Freund, grinning for the first time, but by no means for the last time. “He was a shy young fellow” who spoke neither English nor German at the time. Somehow it works anyway with the communication.
Rangnick and Freund have seen enough of what they’ve seen in England and Metz, although the numbers don’t necessarily suggest bringing this reticent 20-year-old to Salzburg for decent money. However, that does not bother those responsible for RB, they also defend the four million euro investment in front of higher bodies. “You could see what extraordinary abilities he has; how fast and light-footed he was.” A transfer of this magnitude is a daring step for the then RB, Mané at the same time the first piece of the beach puzzle in Rangnick’s new plan. “We also discussed it internally for a long time,” Freund recalled. “That was a lot of money for a player who, apart from insiders, probably few can do. But we were totally convinced of Sadio and followed it.”
“Feder” Mané convinces immediately
Even if the player – contrary to how they like to put it in Munich at the moment – was not immediately “on fire” for the Red Bull project. “For a player who comes from Senegal and plays football in France, Austria is probably not the first goal that comes to mind,” laughs Freund. Nevertheless, Mané can be convinced. And get first aid. Freund hires an integration officer to help Mané with communication, finding accommodation and quite simply in everyday life. “If we’re going to spend four million euros on a third division player,” Freund thinks, “then we’re doing it right. Sadio was 20 years young and it was the first time in a country where he couldn’t communicate well, there’s a lot crashed into him.”
He rarely lets it be known. In training, Mané surprises his teammates and those in charge. Freund immediately thinks of this “incredible speed,” “the start… Like a feather, we always said, because you couldn’t grasp it.” Mané only reveals problems at the end of the goal. Also in training. When things get serious, he exceeds all expectations under coach Roger Schmidt, scores 20 goals in his first season and has ten more. “Everything went much faster back then than we had thought,” Freund still complains today. The sporting success helps Mané to get used to it. He diligently learns German, shows himself around the city and tries to settle in. “He was very bright, always laughing, fun and very popular – not just in the dressing room but across town.”
Mané’s strike – but not an ugly end?
In the summer of 2013, the number of transfer requests was still limited, but in January 2014 Freund knew, with a delay, that the “pen” would soon be on the way. Pep Guardiola’s Bayern travels to Salzburg via the A8 for a friendly game and goes under. Mané made it 1-0, and in the end it was 3-0 for Red Bull. “You could see that he’s a player who has what it takes for big international tasks.” Little Mané has grown too big for Salzburg, FC Southampton knocked on the door from England and obviously turned the 22-year-old’s head. Suddenly, after 41 goals in 50 competitive games, everything should go very quickly.
In August 2014, Salzburg won the important play-off first leg of the Champions League against Malmö 2-1. Mané suddenly doesn’t feel well, is absent from training before the second leg and has scheduled talks with Rangnick and new coach Adi Hütter Farn. The Salzburg team called it “disciplineless” and removed him from the squad. “Life is certainly not optimal,” says Freund today. His theory: “He probably felt pressure and was afraid that he wouldn’t get away.” But he comes. While Mané moves to Southampton for 23 million euros, his former team loses 0: 3 in Malmö and misses the group stage of the premier class. And as beautiful as it begins, the story with Mané in Salzburg ends ugly.
Or not? “It wasn’t really Sadio at all, and it doesn’t suit his character either,” Freund defended vehemently. Even after a quasi-strike change, which actually only came into fashion later and in Dortmund, he refuses to say a particularly bad word about his former protégé to one. “He must have regretted it afterwards.” Over the years, when his star was really rising in Liverpool, Mané stopped by in Salzburg from time to time and also met friends “from time to time”. “And it’s always very warm. He’s a really good person and will find his way around Munich very well, I’m sure of that.” So far no one has objected.