Thursday 24 August 2017

Liverpool could be next rung on ladder for in-demand Keita

Jurgen Klopp has made Naby one of Liverpool’s top transfer targets this summer.
Jurgen Klopp has made Naby one of Liverpool’s top transfer targets this summer.

Archie Rhind-Tutt

When you say "I want to become the best player in the world", as Naby Keita did back in February, you need to have something about you. Keita wasn't afraid to state a similar ambition just two months later to German football magazine kicker as he told of wanting similar success in his career to Lionel Messi.

Fulfilling aspirations of that kind is some way off, not least because the 22-year-old has only just come through his debut campaign in the Bundesliga. Still, there was enough on show to see Keita is an exceptional talent, with his performances for RB Leipzig seeing him acclaimed in Germany as one of the players of the season, and Jurgen Klopp making him one of Liverpool's top transfer targets this summer.

Such was his impact after a €15m move from RB Salzburg last summer, you wonder whether Leipzig would have qualified for the Champions League without him in what was their first Bundesliga campaign.

There were many occasions where he proved his worth, but his goal against Mainz in April summed up his talent. It was one of eight he scored during the season and the finish itself wasn't his most spectacular of the campaign - for that you'll need to search out his 25-yard screamer to open the scoring at Freiburg in November.

This particular effort started a bit further back, namely in the centre circle just inside the Mainz half. There, Keita collected the ball with eight Mainz players ahead of him. Eight seconds later, he'd scored.

He accelerated past five of his opponents, though such is his style when he's on the ball it looked like more of a glide. Even Messi would have to say 'not bad' on viewing.

His turn of pace was also put to good use defensively as Keita responded to coach Ralph Hasenhuttl's call for him to improve that side of his game back in August.

Hasenhuttl described him as "an exceptionally gifted footballer that has an unbelievable elegance on the ball". As a person, he is "a phenomenal guy, always sincere, always laughing, in a good mood and positive".

That last description matches the modest beginnings Keita has come from.

Back in his native Guinea, he used to have to make sure he had enough money to get to training and after that it was a question of where his next meal was going to come from.

Keita says that the streets are the best school when it comes to football. That was where he learnt his trade in the Guinean capital of Conakry though it wasn't a case of jumpers for goalposts as he told German magazine SportBild earlier this year. The posts used to be the tyres of parked cars and the ball was a piece of plastic.

Controlling a ball was easy enough then for Keita as he managed to earn himself trials at Lorient and Le Mans in France. Neither of those quite went to plan, but at the age of 18, Keita did end up leaving Guinea as he got a move to the French second tier with Istres.

The teenage Keita made enough of an impression to earn a move to RB Salzburg in Austria. Two impressive seasons followed as Keita became Austrian champion twice before Red Bull's German franchise came calling last summer.

He made his Leipzig debut against Borussia Dortmund last September, coming off the bench with six minutes to play and scoring the winner with one minute to go.

In April, Keita told kicker "I feel really comfortable in Leipzig" before going on to say that he sees his life and career like a ladder. "I have to climb it, step by step, rung by rung, in order to grow."

The Guinean midfielder is seen as a key part of RB Leipzig ahead of their maiden season in the Champions League, but Keita, it seems, may want to take his next step elsewhere.

Irish Independent

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