Sadio Mane is the embodiment of the dreams of millions of young Africans, emerging from a small village in Senegal to play at the highest level in Europe and become an international icon.
The diminutive attacker defied his family, who did not want him to play soccer, to sneak away from his home village of Bambali to join an academy in the capital Dakar and then catapult his way into club football.
He has gone on to help his country to successive World Cup tournaments, win a first Africa Cup of Nations title and, at club level with Liverpool win the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, and he returns again for the World Cup in Qatar.
The 30-year-old is the reigning African Footballer of the Year, a title he has won back-to-back, and will again be Senegal’s talisman as they take on Ecuador, the Netherlands and hosts Qatar in Group A.
For aspirant footballers from Africa, Mane is a role model who overcame the odds of growing up in the rural south of his country to achieve his ambitions and attain riches beyond his wildest dreams.
He has ploughed much back. His philanthropy in his home region has seen him build a hospital and a school and hand out financial support to numerous families in need.
“Why would I want 10 Ferraris, 20 diamond watches or two planes? What will these objects do for me and for the world?” he has said.
“I was hungry, and I had to work in the field; I survived hard times, played football barefooted, I did not have an education and many other things, but today with what I earn thanks to football, I can help my people.”
On the field, Mane has been the catalyst for Senegal’s progress to the World Cup, converting the winning penalty in the shootout that followed a playoff stalemate with Egypt in March.
He slammed home his shot, exactly as he had done six weeks earlier in Cameroon as Senegal also edged the Egyptians on penalties to win the Cup of Nations.
He will carry a burden of expectation in Qatar, on top of the tumult of his surprise close-season move from Liverpool to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, but Mane never looks happier than when trotting out with his compatriots and looking to take Senegal to loftier heights.