Check out our full Saudi Pro League season guide here
As the new season kicks off this weekend, the former Anfield striker, who joined Al Nassr from Bayern Munich, spoke for the first time of the reasons behind his move to Saudi Arabia.
The Senegal striker enjoyed a warm embrace with old Anfield teammate Jordan Henderson at the official Saudi Pro League launch event in Jeddah, and he admits the former Liverpool skipper is just one past colleague he has a strong connection with ahead of the new season.
Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard took Henderson under his wing as Al Ettifaq coach, while Mane’s former strike partner Roberto Firmino will play for Al Ahli and midfielder Fabinho has signed for champions Al Ittihad.
Mane joked about how Firmino and Fabinho had both encouraged him to join them at their new clubs. “I think first of all I spoke with Firmino for sure,” he said. “I think he wanted me to come to the wrong club – I’m joking! He always called two or three times to convince me to come to Al Ahli.
“At the same time I spoke with Fabinho because he was quite close to me and he also wanted me to come to Al Ittihad, but in this time when Al Nassr came, I chose Al Nassr.
“Of course Henderson is here also, and he sent me a message two days ago to wish me good luck and I’m excited to meet all these great guys and also to meet them face to face for the first time. I’m going to win against you guys!”
Mane may have had words of encouragement from his former teammates, but it was some sound advice from his mother that sealed the deal.
He said: “Since I had the opportunity I spoke to my family, and they were happiest of course because it is a Muslim country. My mum especially encouraged me to go.
“My mum is Muslim like me, she was the first to vote for me to go there and my whole family was excited for me to come here so it was not hard – it is important to my faith. I am pleased to be part of this project and to make it go forward, we have a bright future ahead.”
Mane will team up with former Manchester United rival Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr as the Riyadh giants aim to go one better than their second-place finish to Al Ittihad last term. The prospect of a mouthwatering attacking partnership with Ronaldo also played a big part in Mane’s decision.
He said: “I think you can see how quick everything goes for me, because he is one of the best players in history if not the best of course, and that was easy for me, he makes it easier for me. And (Brazil midfielder) Talisca and the other boys, they are all really great players and I am really excited to start the league with all these boys to make the club a real success.”
Mane admits he has been “really impressed” by the Saudi players since training with the Al Nassr squad, and another former teammate agrees about the genuine talent in the league.
Mane’s international teammate Edouard Mendy is another big-name starting a new chapter in Saudi this season.
Widely regarded as one of the world’s best keepers having won the Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup with Chelsea, as well as the African Cup of Nations alongside Mane for Senegal, Mendy is set to turn out alongside Brazilian Firmino as well as Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez and Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin in a star-studded Al Ahli line up.
The 31-year-old is confident this season’s influx of talent can quickly take Saudi’s players to the next level.
He said: “We could see in the World Cup, the Saudi players are very good technically, they know how to use the ball, they are really comfortable with the ball.
“So it was not a surprise to me to see the quality of the young players and also the experienced players – they just need to have the principles and they will improve, this is what we are doing.
“We want them to be at the highest level possible, and that’s why we work closely with the young players to help them to be better and better every day.”
When it comes to personal targets and demands, Mendy is as hungry as ever.
“My ambitions for the next year and the coming years is the same as at Chelsea, my previous club: to win and to perform in the best way possible. This club is used to winning trophies, so we know the expectations and we have to deliver on the pitch.”
The 2023/24 Saudi Pro League season kicks off in Jeddah on Friday, August 11, as Al Ahli take on Al Hazem at the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium.
Al Nassr travel to Al Ettifaq on Monday, August 14.