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The Keita conundrum

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-10 07:12
The Keita conundrum

Recent run-ins with refs and the law cast shadow over rising star's talent

One thing Naby Keita doesn't lack is confidence. Discipline, however, appears to be a different matter.

The 22-year-old Liverpool-bound box-to-box midfielder, who harbors ambitions of one day playing for Barcelona, was a key component in RB Leipzig's stunning debut season in the Bundesliga last term, helping the team keep Bayern Munich out of top spot for a spell before finally finishing second.

Keita, though, has had a bumpy start to this campaign following the August announcement that he will join Liverpool at the end of this term.

Keita was sent off three times in seven games for club and country, including in the German Cup loss at home to Bayern last month.

He also fell offside with police when it emerged last weekend that he's accused of forgery after twice using a fake Guinea license in his attempts to obtain a German driving permit. He is appealing a hefty fine.

Broken lampshades

Keita was born in Guinea's capital, Conakry, on Feb 10, 1995 and as a child enjoyed kicking anything round - often with expensive results.

"I always looked forward to going to the supermarket with my mother," he told Bundesliga.com.

"There were a lot of round things to play football with.

"Unfortunately, there were also things like lampshades, which got broken. My mom always says that shopping with me was very expensive."

While still a teenager, he left his hometown club Horoya AC to join FC Istres in 2013 when the club was in France's second division.

He netted four goals and provided seven assists in 23 appearances during an impressive Ligue 2 campaign that attracted the attention of Austrian outfit Red Bull Salzburg in 2014.

The move yielded five titles as he helped the club win the Austrian league and cup double in 2014-15 and again in 2015-16, when he picked up the Austrian Bundesliga's Player of the Year award.

All five trophies were achieved while he was still just 21.

He made his debut for Guinea in 2014 with a goal against Mali and helped his country reach the quarterfinals of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

Keita's impressive two-year spell in Austria saw him move for 2016-17 to newly promoted RB Leipzig, despite admiring glances from more illustrious clubs in Europe.

"He's one of the best I've worked with in 20 years of professional football," said Leipzig director of football Ralf Rangnick.

Keita made an immediate impact with the squad, coming off the bench to score the winning goal in his Bundesliga debut as RB stunned Borussia Dortmund 1-0.

Barca dream

Alongside Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg, who set a new German league record of 17 assists in a season, Keita was outstanding in Leipzig's midfield as it finished runnerup to Bayern.

Keita netted eight goals and provided as many assists in his 31 league games last season and has so far managed one goal and an assist in his eight Bundesliga games this term.

He has never been shy about his ambitions - including moving to higher-profile clubs.

"I wish for good health, that I am the best African footballer in the world and that I play one day for Barcelona," he told RB Salzburg's club magazine before his move to Germany.

Whether Keita is good enough to succeed at the very top remains to be seen. There's no doubt he's comfortable in possession in either half of the pitch, and he relishes tackling.

According to Rangnick, he is popular in the locker room, too.

"Naby is friendly and approachable. It's hard not to get along with him," he said.

Meanwhile, Leipzig this week denied speculation that Keita might be allowed to head to Liverpool in January.

"Even if we should not reach the knockout stages of Champions League, it would make no sense to allow Naby to leave earlier," said Rangnick.

Agence France - presse

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