Liverpool star Sadio Mane has been described as one of the world’s best players by his Senegal coach Aliou Cisse on the eve of their first World Cup game since 2002.
Cisse captained that team as it went on a memorable run to the quarter-finals, beating defending champions France on the way.
The 42-year-old is preparing his side to take on Poland in Moscow on Tuesday but dismissed comparisons between the two vintages of Senegalese talent, saying they have never had a player like Mane before.
“Sadio Mane is a unique player and he cannot be compared to any other Senegal player, even the major ones we’ve had in the past,” said Cisse, who spent four seasons in the Premier League with Birmingham and Portsmouth.
“And despite everything that has happened for him over the last two years, he hasn’t changed – he’s just as humble as he was when I first met him at the 2012 Olympics.
“Senegal isn’t only Sadio Mane, though, he has a good team built around him and I think it should be a little plus for him that we’re all behind him.”
When asked by reporters if the 26-year-old winger had a chance to become one of the world’s best players during this tournament, Cisse said: “He’s already one of the best – you can’t say he’s not.
“He plays for one of the most iconic clubs, one of the best in Europe, and he’s top-notch for them.
“He’s absolutely unique because he is so unpredictable, that’s what makes him great – he can make the difference with a pass or shot. He’s already one of the best.”
Mane was named Liverpool’s player of the season in 2017 after his first year with the club and enjoyed another hugely successful campaign this season, which he capped by becoming the first African player to score in the Champions League final.
His team were on the losing side that day, but Cisse is only thinking positive thoughts ahead of the match against Poland.
“Everyone knows the first game is important – it’s not vital or decisive, though – but we are ready,” said Cisse.
“We know Poland have great individuals but they have some defensive weaknesses and we are one of Africa’s best teams and have lots of assets and no weak parts to our game.”
Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski is Poland’s main man but Cisse said Senegal had no “particular plan to stop him, just a collective plan to beat Poland”.
He also said he was confident the continent would one day fulfil Pele’s prediction of an African World Cup winner.
“I’m sure Senegal, Nigeria or another team will be able to win the World Cup just like Brazil and Germany – we have no complexes about this,” he said.
“You can see African players with all the best teams in Europe – we just need more African coaches.”
Senegal are captained by West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate and he revealed that Cisse has been working the team “very, very hard” over the last three weeks but they are now ready to “enjoy the World Cup and give this joy to the Senegalese people”.