When the silly season began in 2017, Naby Keita’s name was always going to find its way into a few headlines.
The RB Leipzig midfielder’s future has been one of the hot topics of European football ever since his explosive start in the Bundesliga last autumn.
Few were surprised, then, when reports last weekend alleged that Liverpool were preparing a bid of around US$64m for Keita.
Equally few were surprised when more reports followed that Leipzig would not accept a penny under US$90 million.
So, who is Naby Keita, is he really worth the money, and will he end up at Anfield, the Red Bull Arena or elsewhere come next season?
Who is Naby Keita?
A young central midfielder from Guinea, Keita has exploded into the higher echelons of European football in his first season at RB Leipzig.
After joining from Red Bull Salzburg last summer, the 22-year-old took the Bundesliga by storm as the motor behind Leipzig’s success.
His tireless work in defensive midfield and his penetrative qualities in attack have drawn regular comparisons with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, while others have professed to find similarities with Keita’s idol, Andres Iniesta.
Former Schalke player Hans Sarpei described him as “amazing”, saying that he “moves like music”, while his former coach at Salzburg Oscar Garcia says he is “one of the three best players I have ever coached”.
Is he really that good?
Anyone who has watched Keita over the last 12 months would struggle to find anything but praise for him.
He has been the natural flag-bearer for Leipzig’s fierce pressing style, hunting down his opponents in midfield and never resting until he has won the ball back.
That has made him perhaps the most significant element of what has been an incredible success story in Leipzig.
So he is mainly a defensive player?
Yes, and yet his qualities going forward have also been priceless for Leipzig. Having won the ball back, Keita is always quick to move to the next step of Leipzig’s tactical style, often being at either the genesis or the heart of their rapid counter-attacks.
With eight goals and eight assists in his 31 league appearances for the club last season, Keita was one of the most prolific players in a team packed with attacking talent.
Will Leipzig sell him?
The short answer is no, at least with regard to this summer.
Chairman Oliver Mintzlaff recently ruled out the sale of any key players this summer.
Director of Sport Ralf Rangnick, meanwhile, is said to have put an absolute minimum price of around US$90m on Keita’s head, which would rule out even Liverpool’s huge offer.
Does Keita not want to leave?
Despite rumours of a transfer request, it is unlikely that Keita will aggressively push for a move this summer. He has always spoken of how happy he feels in Leipzig, and has a close relationship with Rangnick.
Quite a shy man, Keita has often given the impression that he values a supportive environment very highly, and he would surely think twice about giving up his comfort in Saxony.
Would he suit the Premier League?
With Leipzig unlikely to sell to Bayern Munich, any successful move for Keita will probably come from either England or Spain, and it is the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea who have been most heavily linked with the player so far.
Having been such a brilliant exponent of Leipzig’s style last season, there is little reason to think he would struggle in the Premier League.
The comparisons with Kante are not for nothing, and he would arguably bring a similar mixture of scrap, beguiling intelligence and razor sharp penetration to any English club. – Daily Mail