Liverpool star Sadio Mane has become the new favorite to replace Lionel Messi in Barcelona as the Argentine’s exit looms, reports from Spain said.
The Catalan club is already preparing for a future without its longtime superstar, and the names of several highly-rated players have emerged as candidates to fill his shoes. But although replacing Messi is indeed difficult, Mane could be up for the challenge of filling the massive void the Barca captain would leave behind.
In fact, the Liverpool star has already been “offered to Barca,” Mundo Deportivo reported.
Following a successful run with the Premier League champ, the Senegal international is considered one of the best players in the world at present. Mane has played an integral part in Liverpool’s historic 2019/20 season and still has one year left in his contract.
However, the Spanish outlet said the 28-year-old has been “putting off” a renewal offer from Liverpool as “he knows that at Barca, he would have a leading role.”
The Barcelona captain himself once lauded the Liverpool winger for his many achievements as an individual player. Last year, Messi gave Mane a glowing appraisal after the latter finished fourth behind him, Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or voting.
“It’s a shame to see Mane finish in fourth place. But I think there have been a lot of great players this year,” Messi told Canal+. “That’s why it was difficult to choose a particular player. But I chose Sadio Mane because he’s a player that I like. Mane achieved a great year that was exceptional for the entire Liverpool team. That’s why I chose him.”
Another factor being considered in Mane’s possible Barcelona move is his past working relationship with new Barca coach Ronald Koeman. Mane worked under the Dutch manager for two seasons at Southampton. This has also made Mane confident that he will have a spot in the new Barcelona squad, the report said.
If talks do progress, Reds officials are expected to demand £108 million ($144 million) should they part with the Senegalese star.
Prior to Mane, Barca set its sights on Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez as a possible replacement for Messi. This is said to be the club’s immediate back-up plan for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner leaving for Manchester City, a move which would see him reuniting with his former coach Pep Guardiola.