‘They were never best friends’ – Liverpool icon Robert Firmino reveals all on Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane’s rivalry
'I saw first-hand the looks, the grimaces, the body language, the dissatisfaction when one was mad at the other.'
Salah, Firmino and Mane formed one of football’s deadliest forward lines, scoring countless goals and winning many trophies – including the Premier League and Champions League – during a five-year spell at Anfield.
The fab three are no more of course, after Mane joined Bayern Munich in 2022 and Firmino departed for the Saudi Pro League last summer.
The latter has now opened up on his relationship with the two wingers and moreover the rivalry between the pair that was often seen on the pitch.
There was always reports that Mane was consistently unhappy that Salah wouldn’t pass to him, speculation that grew after an incident at Burnley in 2019, where the Senegal star was visibly furious at his teammate.
‘For many, that disagreement between Sadio and Mo was the first; for some, the first and last,’ Firmino wrote in his new book, Sí Señor: My Liverpool Years.
‘But I knew it had been brewing since the previous season, 2018-19. My instinct and my duty was to defuse the situation between them. Pour water on the fire – never petrol.
‘I knew those guys very well, maybe better than anyone. It was me out there on the field, right in the middle of them.
‘I saw first-hand the looks, the grimaces, the body language, the dissatisfaction when one was mad at the other. I could feel it. I was the link between them in our attacking play and the firefighter in those moments.
‘They were never best friends; each kept himself to himself. It was rare to see the two of them talking and I’m not sure if that had to do with the Egypt-Senegal rivalry in African competitions.
‘I truly don’t know. But they also never stopped talking, never severed ties. They always acted with the utmost professionalism.’
Though the least prolific of the three and often considered the ‘weakest’, Firmino claims that without him the dynamic between Mane and Salah could have become very toxic.
‘I never took sides. That’s why they love me: I always passed the ball to both; my preference was for the team’s victory,’ he added.
‘Many focus on what I brought to the attacking trio in tactical terms, but perhaps just as important was the human element: my role as peacemaker, unifier. If I didn’t do that, it would be nothing but storms between the two of them on the field.
‘Maybe that’s why I was the one most often substituted by [Jurgen] Klopp. The three of us had very different personalities and the Boss knew I wouldn’t throw a bottle to the ground or anything like that.
‘If I was bothered, I’d talk to him privately afterwards. When a substitution was needed, it was easier to take Bobby off than to upset either of the other two.
‘Everyone, including the other players, knew that’s how it worked. It was the worst-kept secret in Liverpool – naturally, no one ever asked what I thought or how I felt. That’s just my nature; the team comes first. The Boss knew it.’
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