AS one of Liverpool’s top targets this summer, it will cause a lot of excitement among supporters to see reports emerging that Naby Keita is open to the idea of leaving RB Leipzig.
But, unless you’ve had the time to take in some Bundesliga action over the course of last season, you probably won’t know much about the Guinean midfielder. So we take a look at who Keita is and what he could bring to Jürgen Klopp’s side.
Keita’s route into professional football wasn’t the smoothest. After leaving his hometown club, he took the leap to move to France at the age of just 16. He underwent trials with FC Lorient and Le Mans but was unsuccessful — a huge blow to a youngster who had moved abroad to follow his passion.
But he stuck at it and his big break came two years later during a talent-spotting tournament organised by former Celtic defender Bobo Balde. Keita impressed and was picked up by FC Istres.
After just one season with the French second division side — in which he made 23 appearances picking up four goals and seven assists — Red Bull Salzburg snapped him up and he quickly settled into his new surroundings.
Keita made 44 appearances in his first season in Austria and helped his new team reach the last 32 of the Europa League, scoring in a group stage win at Celtic Park. The Guinean further displayed his goal-scoring touch the following season scoring 14 times in 37 appearances, while grabbing eight assists.
That form saw him secure a move to sister club RB Leipzig, turning down an approach from Arsene Wenger. His decision paid off, the newly promoted side finished second in the Bundesliga with Keita playing a star role.
With eight goals and eight assists in 31 appearances, the 22-year-old was named the league’s young player of the season, capping off a stellar first season in Germany.
What’s the latest?
Liverpool’s interest in Keita first emerged towards the back end of last season and it was believed that The Reds were willing to pay around £50million in order to get their man.
Leipzig had other ideas though and all the talk coming out of the German club suggested they weren’t looking to sell any of their prized assets — with Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner also reportedly on Liverpool’s radar.
Sporting director Ralf Rangnick said: “Naby’s an extraordinary player who could play in any top European team. [He has] no release clause in his contract, he’s still under contract for a long time yet.
“If we qualify for Europe, there’s also no reason why Naby shouldn’t play for us next season. I don’t know if he’ll play for us for three or four more years. No one knows — we can’t all look into a crystal ball. But I think it’s very likely he’ll play for us next season.”
However, over the weekend there were suggestions that Leipzig would consider bids of around £70m for Keita — a slight climbdown from their original stance but still an indication that the club weren’t keen on a sale.
Links with a move away have further intensified today with suggestions that Keita would like to leave should the club’s valuation be met.
It remains to be seen whether Liverpool would be willing to pay that much for the player, but it would certainly be a huge statement of intent off the back of breaking the club record to sign Mohamed Salah.
Before this all gets too messy. 1) I have been told that Keita wants to go. 2) I believe RBL's €80m or nothing stance is genuine.
— Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) June 26, 2017
What’s been said about him?
Former Senegal coach Luis Fernandez: “He’s a very good player. He went through Istres. And he was offered to many Ligue 1 clubs in vain. Naby now proves his worth in Germany. He’s a player to follow. I can say that he is the African [Andres] Iniesta. They have the same style of play.”
Former team-mate in Guinea Foda Kebe: “Naby was always very energetic, technical and more aggressive. In Conakry, everyone thought at the time that Naby was going to find himself at the top level and playing for the biggest European clubs.”
Former team-mate at Salzburg Andreas Ulmer: “A positive guy who always smiles, on the pitch he is outstanding, how he moves with and without the ball is unique.”
Leipzig manager Ralph Hasenhuttl: “An exceptionally gifted footballer that has an unbelievable elegance on the ball. He is a phenomenal guy, always sincere, always laughing, in a good mood and positive.”
What’s his injury record like?
It doesn’t look great for such a young lad but worth noting that nothing here looks to be a recurrence of any issues. The biggest fear will be related to the ‘circulation problems’ which caused him to collapse on the pitch last season after Leipzig’s defeat to Wolfsburg.
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