Jurgen Klopp can laugh about it now, but there was a time when he admits: “I wanted to punch myself.”
The Liverpool boss could have taken Sadio Mane to Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2014. He held talks with the Senegal international, who was plying his trade in Austria, but ultimately Klopp decided not to go through with the deal.
Instead Mane completed a £11.8million move from Red Bull Salzburg to Southampton. Any doubts Klopp had about Mane quickly evaporated as he watched him light up the Premier League.
When a second opportunity to work with the flying winger came up back in June, there was no hesitation. Klopp told Michael Edwards, the club’s new sporting director, that Mane would be worth every pound of the £30million it would take to get him to Anfield.
“With Sadio it was pretty simple because I made the mistake at Dortmund where I didn’t take him,” Klopp said.
“We talked. I think everyone knows we met each other and by the end I didn’t feel (claps hands) this.
“Around about three months later I would have punched myself so I knew already that the next chance I had I would take it. So it was not difficult to take this decision, it was very easy.
“When the club came and when Michael Edwards said we have an opportunity. No talks were necessary any more. It was a case of ‘let’s do it’.”
Mane has been a massive hit at Anfield. He has played a starring role in Liverpool’s march to the Premier League summit with six goals in 10 league outings. His pace and trickery has given the Reds an extra attacking dimension.
He would have been more expensive if we’d taken him to Dortmund first
Looking back, Klopp believes he inadvertently did the Reds a big favour by not signing Mane when he was in charge at Dortmund.
“It was more a feeling,” Klopp said.
“We spoke and I liked the player. But at Dortmund in that position I was happy and we could only get one, not two or three, so it needed to be the right, exact fit in that moment.
“Who did I sign instead? I’ve forgotten. There have been so many transfers
“I’m not a genius so I couldn’t exactly imagine the Austrian League where he was. What does it mean? What does it mean for the football? That’s it. I have made more mistakes in my life like this actually.
“I think he would have been more expensive if we had taken him to Dortmund and then he had been sold to Liverpool, so all good for Liverpool! My first Liverpool decision, the more I think about it, nice!”
Mane’s heroics against Liverpool last season only served to reinforce Klopp’s admiration for his blistering talent.
He netted four times against the Reds in three matches and was responsible for Southampton’s remarkable fightback at St Mary’s in March.
Klopp’s men led 2-0 at the break after a dominant first-half display but the introduction of Mane for the second half transformed the contest. He scored twice and also missed a penalty as Saints ran out 3-2 winners.
After the final whistle Klopp put aside his anger and disappointment to congratulate Mane on his impact.
“He was one of the four or five Premier League players last year who I had personally met before,” Klopp said.
“When I’ve met someone before and we didn’t have an argument when we met I am nice enough to say hello again. That was after he scored two goals! But then my mother says you have to be kind.”
Philippe Coutinho’s fitness is a concern after he reported back from international duty with a tight hamstring and Adam Lallana is unlikely to feature against his old club due to a groin problem. However, Liverpool will still have a strong ex-Saints contingent in their line up with Mane, Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne.
There are a lot of good players around the world
As well as Mane, Southampton also lost Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle last summer, while manager Ronald Koeman headed for Everton.
Klopp was impressed by the manner in which the South Coast outfit went about filling the gaps. Frenchman Claude Puel was handed the reins and has enjoyed a solid start to his tenure as they sit in the top half of the table.
“If you lose Sadio Mane and Pelle in one season, come on,” Klopp said.
“Tell me two other Premier League clubs, or Bundesliga clubs, who will lose this quality and next year you will think again ‘oh yes, they have it again’.
“So it’s like take Mane, blah blah, negotiations go ‘no, not for this price, not for this price’ and they have (Nathan) Redmond in the pocket. Then they go and sell. It’s good and what you have to do, and what we did at Borussia Dortmund.
“They always took players and we had to replace. Everyone always thinks there is not another player like this around the world, but there are a lot of good players.
“You only need to know about them in the right moment and the right situation because they cannot pay the same price that maybe we can pay or they can use the whole money you can give them.
“My respect for things like this is really big. I like them, but when I’m there I don’t like them, so that’s how it is with Southampton. It’s one of these little pieces of football you think ‘good job’.
“Southampton have made very creative and good decisions. Claude Puel is an unbelievably good manager, and in a club like this where they give you the time and space to create something.”
Liverpool’s previous trip to St Mary’s provides a painful reminder of the glaring inconsistency of last season. From a position of total control after goals from Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, they crumbled.
It was the first time since August 1964 that Liverpool had lost a league game after leading 2-0 at half-time.
In stark contrast this term the Reds have shown much greater resilience as well as quality. On the rare occasions when their backs have been against the wall, they have dug deep.
Klopp believes both teams are now very different propositions.
“It is not fair to compare last season,” he added.
“We can speak about a lot of games last season when we couldn’t strike back in the second half. We were really good in Southampton in the first half, maybe could have been in a clearer lead. Then in the second half we were killed, we were done, we couldn’t strike back.
“They scored the first goal and it was like ‘ahh’. We couldn’t do it because of the big number of things that were a big difference last year.
“In this moment you need to have the quality to decide a game as long as you are in good shape. 3-0, 4-0 and go. That would have been possible but we didn’t do it and in the second half the game turned.
“Southampton play differently from last year. They didn’t only change the manager, they changed the style. You cannot play without Pelle like you have him.
“They are flexible offensively but the bad news for them is that until now they haven’t played against us so that’s how it is.
“It can be different for everyone. We have to show that we can play football, defend and all that stuff.”