Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has admitted he grew up wanting to emulate Ronaldinho.
The Sengalese striker, in an interview with El Pais in Spain, also opens up on Jurgen Klopp’s famous pressing game and the way targeting Aymeric Laporte helped Liverpool knock Manchester City out in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Of his boyhood hero, Mane said: ‘I wanted to be Ronaldinho. I studied him a lot. He was my hero.
‘I didn’t dream about becoming a professional, I dreamed about becoming the best in the world.’
Asked about his on-pitch relationship with Mohamed Salah and Liverpool’s magnificent front three, he said: ‘Salah is my friend so it’s normal that I give him the ball on the pitch. The three of us compliment each other.
‘(Roberto) Firmino holds the ball up and generates space for those arriving from deep. And Salah is an opportunist. The man applies the final touch.’
But Liverpool’s devastating attackers are also integral to the way Klopp wants his team to play and Mane is asked who leads the charge in Liverpool’s ‘Gegenpress’.
He told El Pais: ‘There is no leader. It’s more a sensation. It’s something you learn after two years of practising it on the training ground.
‘You end up interpreting it naturally during games. It depends when the rivals play a certain pass and who they play that pass to. That is the sign for everyone to go.
‘Nobody needs to shout it, we know in what situations we press and in what situations we drop back and tighten up. It’s about reading the rival.
‘When you see the rival make a certain pass you don’t need to look behind you. You know 100 per cent that all your team-mates will go with you.
‘It’s the rival that gives you the tempo depending on who is on the ball or who a pass is played to. That is the little secret.’
Asked which rival player or pass was the trigger for the team to press in the quarter-final against Manchester City, Mane says: ‘When Laporte received the ball, when Ederson started the play with his centre backs.’