Liverpool duo Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will attend an awards cermony in Ghana the day before Friday’s FA Cup Merseyside derby against Everton, with manager Jurgen Klopp’s full support.
Senegal international Mane and Egyptian ace Salah are both on the shortlist for the Confederation of African Football’s player of the year award.
However, with Salah an injury doubt for the game, as is Philippe Coutinho, the importance of Mane has become greater in the short term and it was highlighted in the 2-1 win at Burnley on New Year’s Day.
Mane scored a brilliant opener – only his second Premier League strike since August – and may have to play a key role against Everton, but Klopp will not prevent him from travelling to Africa.
“Sadio is unbelievably important for us. He is strong, quick, so many things. He scores a goal like this and it is like, ‘Wow’,” said Klopp, who saw defender Ragnar Klavan snatch a stoppage-time winner after Burnley’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson had equalised in the 87th minute.
“We have everything organised. We have two of the three best African players in our squad. We have to show them respect.
“If it had been a matchday they wouldn’t have asked. We sleep in a hotel, they sleep in a plane. That is all the difference.
“If Mo is not fit, it will not be for that (travelling). For our side, it is just a sign of respect.
“I had (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang (at Borussia Dortmund) and there is nothing more important than to go there.”
Virgil Van Dijk was officially confirmed as a Liverpool player on Monday after the paperwork on a world-record deal for a defender was finalised.
But Klopp refused to say whether the £75million centre-back was in contention to face Everton.
“I don’t know,” the German said. “We made a few tests. No rush. He is on fire, really wants (to play), but we have to make sure he can perform.
“Centre-half is a position which depends on the others in the pitch. That means you have to tune it so you work together.
“After Friday, we have a little bit more time. It is a long-time project. It is not important when his first game (is) but how many good games (he has).”