It's a case of plenty done and a lot more to come for Bayern Munich's attacking sensation Sadio Mane, with the African Player of the Year focusing on an explosive return to action in 2023.
It was on a date in late June when Bayern's website posted news of the arrival of Mane, after a transfer deal was reached with Liverpool. The news brought excitement and glee to Bayern supporters the world over, especially as the Bambali-born forward had previously expressed his admiration for the Bavarian giants.
The 30-year-old's first competitive test in Bayern colours would be the Supercup and a mouth-watering challenge against DFB Cup winners RB Leipzig. The reigning Bundesliga champions went on to win a spell-binding encounter by 5-3, with Mane converting a Serge Gnabry assist to make it 2-0. So far, so good.
Watch: All Sadio Mane's Bundesliga goals and assists so far
Next up, a trip to Eintracht Frankfurt and the curtain raiser to the Bundesliga season against a side that had lifted the UEFA Europa League trophy a little over two months prior. It was to be another ominous warning from Julian Nagelsmann's charges, who swatted the Eagles away with a 6-1 victory at Deutsche Bank Park, Mane on target once again.
A double against Bochum in one more high-scoring win followed soon afterwards, but as Bayern suddenly hit a dip in domestic form, Mane's numbers stalled somewhat too. "I spoke to him to tell him he should have more self-confidence and more confidence in his abilities as a leader," Naglesmann said, explaining his efforts to reassure a player who appeared to be entering his adaptive phase a touch later than normal.
"Switching from one club to another is not easy," Mane told UEFA's official website at the time. "I spent eight very nice years in England, six years at Liverpool [after] two at Southampton, and now I am in a new country."
A new country, new teammates, a new style of football and tactics. His professionalism and athleticism never in doubt, Mane's lull in front of goal was understandable. "It's not easy because everything changes so suddenly: people, training, everything; I need[ed] to adapt," Bayern's No.17 explained.
On 30 September, he was back on the scoresheet in an impressive 4-0 triumph against Bayer Leverkusen and his stats started to noticeably rise again from there. Still not 100 per cent used to Bayern's 4-2-2-2 formation, the Senegalese forward was refining his new role, all the while adding important goals and assists.
Prior to a fateful game against Werder Bremen in November, Mane had racked up 11 goals and four assist across four competitions. Poor luck prevented those digits being far more polished. The woodwork and having an incredible six goals ruled out in the Bundesliga proved unwanted obstacles.
Watch: Sadio Mane wins inaugural Socrates Prize
Nevertheless, with his form steadily improving, Mane was set fair for a tilt at World Cup glory with African champions Senegal, until a serious injury against Bremen on 8 November put paid to those hopes. Surgery to reattach a tendon to the head of his right fibula followed in Innsbruck and a rehabilitation programme began.
Despite the bitter disappointment of missing the finals, a point of reflection would have left Mane satisfied with his overall form for Bayern prior to the break.
Only Jamal Musiala and Gnabry have been involved in more goals than Mane in the Bundesliga, while the club's summer signing is fourth in the league in terms of shots at goal (43), with only Marcus Thuram (55), Niclas Füllkrug (46) and Christopher Nkunku (44) firing more often so far. Mane is also third on the sprints list, his 303 on-field dashes bettered only by Alphonso Davies and Musiala.
During Bayern's perfect group stage showing in the Champions League, meanwhile, Mane scored three times and laid on an assist while featuring in every game as the six-time winners finished ahead of Inter Milan, Barcelona and Viktoria Plzen in the section. A last 16 clash against Paris Saint-Germain next awaits Mane and Co.
A date has yet to be set for Mane's return to action, but what is certain is that Bayern's attacking lion will be hungry to help out and provide his teammates - especially the younger ones - with an example after the big restart. "We have a very, very young squad," Mane told UEFA.com.
"It's the first time in my career that I have been part of such a young group. What really stands out to me is that they're all hungry, they all want to develop and they're attentive too," he continued. "It’s so easy to play alongside these youngsters, who are massively talented and promising."
For coach Naglesmann, the prospect of Mane reaching his absolute best ahead of some huge games in the new year will mean so much. "I'm basically happy with his job so far," the tactician said earlier this season, adding, "I don't think he's reached his peak yet. I'm looking forward to his peak."
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