A new documentary from Rakuten TV, titled Made in Senegal, tracks the journey of Sadio Mané from his remote home village of Bambali to becoming a world-class footballer for Liverpool FC. (African football fans will have to wait a while before they can watch Made in Senegal, since Rakuten TV currently only broadcasts in Europe.)
Part of what makes Mané’s rise to fame so remarkable is that Bambali has no football infrastructure at all: the winger used to practice with grapefruits and stones because soccer balls were so rare. At age seven, his father passed away. All he wanted to do was play football, but his family, who are the imams of Bambali, didn’t want him to pursue it as a career. In 2009, a local talent scout saw him play and he was accepted at Generation Foot, an academy in the capital Dakar that has ties with FC Metz in France, which soon signed him.
At Liverpool, he helped the team win the UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Club Championships.
After a stint at RB Salzburg in Austria, winning the league and cup double, he relocated to Southampton in England’s Premier League. Here, he played for just one season before transferring to Liverpool, where he helped the team win the UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Club Championships, and his rise is only expected to continue.
The Senegalese striker’s success and open display of his Muslim faith alongside Egyptian teammate Mohamed Salah has resulted in changing attitudes among white British football supporters, many of whom have come to show respect and admiration for players who are all too often the victims of racial abuse and Islamophobia.
Inspiring as it is, Mané’s story reflects the harsh reality for many talented football players in Africa who come from areas where poverty or conflict prevail. The desire to make their way to Europe and seek their fortune in the world of football leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers, eager to profit from European clubs’ hopes of discovering the next football sensation from the continent.