Burnley midfielder Jack Cork instantly recognised that Liverpool's Sadio Mane was a special talent

Burnley's Jack Cork tries to prevent Liverpool's Sadio Mane from getting a shot away at Anfield
Burnley's Jack Cork tries to prevent Liverpool's Sadio Mane from getting a shot away at Anfield

Golden Boot holder Sadio Mane was a recipient of Jack Cork's vote for PFA Player of the Year in the Premier League last season.

The Senegalese international, who shared the leading goalscorer gong with team-mate Mo Salah and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, won the Burnley midfielder over as soon as he made the switch to England from Austria.

The Liverpool forward had spent a couple of seasons with FC Red Bull Salzburg in the Bundesliga, securing a winner's medal in 2013/14 having just missed out on the title the year before.

A return of 31 goals in 51 starts was enough to pique Ronald Koeman's interest and, three months in to the Dutchman's tenure, Mane signed on the dotted line, joining Cork at Southampton.

The pair would only spend around four months together at St Mary's, with Cork moving on to Swansea, but the 30-year-old already knew by then that the Saints had a special player on their hands.

"Sadio is a really, really nice guy – down to earth," said Cork. "Really friendly. When he first came to Southampton I didn’t know much about him.

"He was quite quiet, unassuming. He came in happy and smiling and just wanted to play football and take a chance.

"But as soon as he came in you could see that he’s got a bit of everything – skill, poise, he can take players on but he also wants to do the hard stuff, run back and tackle and do all the honest stuff.

"I was just shocked with how much he ran around in training. You'd have the ball, you'd think you had time, but then he just came from behind and ran away with it. He can do a bit of everything. He'll be all over the pitch working hard.

"That shows in his personality off the pitch too, and I couldn’t speak highly enough about him. I think he’s deserved everything he’s got since he made his move."

Mane, who has been inducted in to the PFA Team of the Year twice, netted 21 times in 54 league starts on the south coast before Liverpool came calling.

The European champions forked out £34m for their man in the summer of 2016 and they've never looked back since. Mane's ratio at present in the top flight brings a goal every other start.

"When it came to voting for players to be in the Team of the Year I put him in last year because I think he offers something to Liverpool that they haven't got," Cork said.

"They've got Salah, who has got the skill, they've got Firmino, but he just gives them that little bit extra, some stuff that he might not get the credit for that he deserves. He's a good player.

"Every season I was at Southampton someone seemed to be moving to a bigger club. It was a constant thing for two or three years, people moving on.

"It was no surprise to me because other players had moved on and been successful with bigger teams. It was just part of being at the club at the time, and I’m just glad he’s done well."

Cork put the Clarets ahead against the Reds at Turf Moor last term only for the visitors to hit back through James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri.

And with Jurgen Klopp's men owning the only 100% record in the top four tiers of English football, the former Chelsea man knows they've got their work cut out again.

He said: "We have to be aggressive, keep our shape, work hard and just try to match them all over the pitch.

"Hopefully we can take something out of this. It’s not the nicest of places to come, our place, especially when the crowd get right behind us.

"We don't necessarily have to be physical – not like going round hitting or smashing into people and getting stuck in.

"It’s just working hard and making sure you win your duels with people and letting them know they’re in for a tough day. It’s something we do well here.

"We’ve got one of the hardest working teams in the league. I’d back us against anyone that sort of way. We’re a team that never gives up. We’ll keep playing, and I’m sure that will help us on the weekend."