It is becoming more and more apparent that the last glimpse of Sadio Mane in the famous red of Liverpool may have come during their celebratory parade at the weekend. Cap on his head and wearing a scarf, it may have been his farewell.
The open-top bus tour was meant to be a time to draw a happy line under what has ultimately been a successful season for the club, after their FA Cup and Carabao Cup triumphs. It was marred, however, by the uncertainty surrounding Mane.
With just 12 months remaining on his contract and a desire to leave this summer, it truly does look as though the forward will walk out of Anfield. He departs as an all-time great, but leaves behind a gaping hole Jurgen Klopp will need to fill.
Sadio Mane may well have bid farewell to Liverpool fans during their open-top bus parade
The forward has his heart set on leaving and Bayern Munich are in pole position to sign him
Sportsmail reported recently that Mane is intrigued by a move to Bayern Munich and it is understood that the Bundesliga giants are indeed in pole position.
With the heartache from Paris still throbbing away gently in the background, Reds supporters will certainly be dismayed by the news, such is the level of his impact. Across his six-year stay, he has made himself one of the world’s most feared forwards.
The writing was on the wall after the full-time whistle had sounded in Paris, however.
Mane was a notable absentee from the mixed zone, and is yet to officially address his future. He is yet to tell Liverpool officials about his next decision, reports have said.
Reds chiefs are yet to receive confirmation over his decision, and will hold out for a big fee
What is known is that he wants a new challenge, and that Bayern Munich want to play him alongside Robert Lewandowski – provided he doesn’t leave for Barcelona.
It is far from an easy deal to pull off. Those at Anfield want big money for their attacker, but have not ruled out the prospect of him staying to see out the final year of his contract. All of that depends on how much Mane agitates to leave now.
Paris Saint-Germain are also keeping an eye on his situation, it is believed, but their target appreciates the border area of southern Germany and the set-up at Bayern.
In addition, Sportsmail has reported that Liverpool will only consider a future without Mane if clubs are prepared to pay over £35m, handing them a region in which to do business. New sporting director Julian Ward will hold out for a good deal.
Mane enjoyed a superb season for his club, who will want over £35million to let him leave
Landing a good package will be vital for the club if they wish to splash out on sourcing a replacement, although that is far from certain ahead of the window.
Mane flourished in the second half of the season, having scored 13 of his 23 goals after winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal at the start of the year.
He also took like a duck to water to his new role in the No 9 position, with Luis Diaz’s signing from Porto reshuffling the usual front three deployed by boss Klopp.
But as the season continued, and Liverpool failed to agree an extension with him, the possibility he would move on this summer grew and grew.
His team-mates will want him to stay at Anfield, such is the impact he has had since joining
The ball is very much in the camp of Bayern, who will have to take the onus and step forward with a bid worthy of consideration, but contingency plans may be drawn up.
On that front, it is understood that the Reds may not look to directly replace Mane.
They brought forward their deal for Diaz to the winter window, and also have no plans to loan out the talented Fabio Carvalho, expecting him to make an impact next season after arriving from Fulham recently in a £5million deal.
Sportsmail understands, however, that there are several players on their radar. Serge Gnabry, intriguingly of Bayern, is appreciated, and has a year left on his contract.
Fabio Carvalho will stay with the first-team next season but the starlet should not be relied on
Bayern winger Serge Gnabry is liked by Liverpool, and also has one year left on his contract
Watford duo Joao Pedro and Ismaila Sarr have also caught the eye. The club are keen to keep Pedro, while there may be concerns over the latter’s in-game intelligence.
It is likely that Ousmane Dembele will be offered to Liverpool, in light of his uncertain future at Barcelona. A free transfer like that has been snapped up by the Reds before, but the winger’s wages and character may prove to be issues.
Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic is another player liked by Klopp but, as it stands, no deal is likely for his current valuation. Elsewhere, Arnaut Danjuma, who has enjoyed a blistering campaign for Villarreal after joining from Bournemouth, could be a target.
With Divock Origi leaving on a free transfer and offers for Takumi Minamino to be fielded, it does appear Liverpool do need at least one more forward for next year.
Christian Pulisic of Chelsea is another liked by Jurgen Klopp, but a deal is unlikely as it stands
Arnaut Danjuma has enjoyed a superb season for Villarreal, and could well also be a target
It is worth noting that nothing has been decided about Mane’s future, and his words ahead of the Champions League final left the door open for every scenario.
‘Come back to me after Saturday and I’ll give you the best answer you want to hear, for sure. It’s special,’ he said with a smile. ‘I will give you all you want to hear then.’
His manager, though, did not blow any speculation over his talisman. Indeed, questioned on his future, he said, ‘wherever Sadio plays next season, he will be an important player’. Was that genuine uncertainty or an attempt to soften the blow?
When Liverpool were toiling in their bid to break down Real Madrid, it was Mane who stood head and shoulders above the rest. The trophy would surely have been heading back to England, too, if his 20th minute shot had beaten Thibaut Courtois.
Steven Gerrard has warned Mane against making a mistake in leaving, but his exit is looming
Even legend Steven Gerrard has warned Mane against making the mistake of leaving.
Speaking to BT Sport, Gerrard said: ‘[Mohamed] Salah has already said that he is going to be here next year, I know there is a bit of noise around Mane.
‘But why would you want to leave this Liverpool team because you know that they are going to be competitive in the business end of the season?’
That may well be the case, but Mane has his heart set on a new chapter. And as one door closes, another opens for his club. Here, they can splash the cash once again, or look in-house in their bid to ensure his departure does not derail their ambitions.