Friday 22 March 2019

Liverpool new boy Keita excited to wear number eight shirt vacated by Gerrard

The Guinea midfielder formally completed his move to the Anfield club on July 1.

Naby Keita is ready to start life as Liverpool’s new number eight (Mike Egerton/PA)
Naby Keita is ready to start life as Liverpool’s new number eight (Mike Egerton/PA)

By Phil Medlicott, Press Association Sport

Naby Keita has spoken of his “huge desire to win” as he begins life as Liverpool’s first number eight since Steven Gerrard – a player he used to pretend to be as a child.

Keita formally completed his move to the Merseyside outfit from RB Leipzig on July 1 after a deal was agreed between the clubs in August last year.

Liverpool last month announced he been given the number former captain Gerrard wore with such distinction at the club before moving to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2015, and which had not been allocated to anyone since.

It was also revealed Gerrard had made a surprise presentation to Keita of a number eight shirt at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground last August.

It was quite a moment for the 23-year-old Guinea midfielder, who has joined a club “loved” by his father, Sekou, and as a boy in Conakry would play football wearing a replica Reds shirt, wanting to be like Gerrard.

Speaking this week, Keita said: “He (his father) has spoken to me loads since I signed for Liverpool about how much he loved them. As a kid we used to play wearing a Liverpool shirt in the streets. He had that love of Liverpool then.

“Because I’m a midfielder and Gerrard was always the boss of the side, it couldn’t be anyone else other than Steven Gerrard – that’s who you’d be when you were playing, wanting to be like him.”

Steven Gerrard was Liverpool’s number eight for 11 years (Peter Byrne/PA)

Keita says eight was always “special” for him as it was the number his father, who played at “a decent amateur level” in Guinea, wore – it was also that worn by ex-Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta, the player he describes as his “overall favourite”.

He added of the presentation by Gerrard, who left his job with Liverpool’s academy this summer to manage Rangers: “It was a big shock. Steven said, ‘Everyone’s going to be here for you, to help you develop’.

“I’m aware it’s a big number here and I’m very excited to wear it. But it’s also something I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself with.”

While expressing his admiration for the skill of Iniesta, Keita – also a big fan of another former Barcelona man, Deco – has stressed his belief that “as a midfielder you need to have that aggression as part of your game”.

Keita has been in pre-season action for Liverpool after formally completing his move to the club on July 1 (Martin Rickett/PA)

And he said when asked to describe himself as a player: “I’m someone who has this real winning mentality. I have a huge desire to win.

“That’s why I’m aggressive in a positive sense on the field.”

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League last season, 25 points behind champions Manchester City.

Asked if he felt his new club have the quality of squad to compete with City this season, Keita said: “I know we have enough quality.

Keita was sent off four times last season (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It’s all about having the mindset and desire to want it and fight for it enough. I think that goes as long way, having that desire and belief.”

Keita was sent off four times last season, and having been reminded of that, he said it was “something I need to be aware about” before adding: “Part of my game is winning the ball back and that’s all I was trying to do.”

And he said when asked about the physicality of the Premier League: “I don’t think that physical aspect is going to have a negative effect on me at all.

“I’ve watched a lot of English football and I’m getting used to this kind of physical aspect. Through the process of the pre-season friendlies, hopefully I’ll be up to speed with it. Winning the ball back is something I like.”

Press Association

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