42. Naby Keïta
Naby Keïta’s talent has already transcended socio-economic difficulties; continents, cultures and countries. The catalyst of Keïta’s immense talent, like many before him, was a life of poverty. His impoverished background shaped him into the player that recently took the Bundesliga by storm. Making him the latest testament to the teachings of street football, and another example for those who see football as a way out of squalor and crime.
Many of those street football teachings are clearly present today and are a key part of the now 22-year-old’s notoriously diverse repertoire of footballing skills that has saw him gain mass popularity over the past year. This is particularly visible when seeing Keïta’s seamless transition from the sand-ridden pitches that are commonplace in African football, to the manicured carpets of the Bundesliga. Keïta’s one of the most sought-after talents in world football at the moment. This is due to his aforementioned diverse repertoire of skills.
Naby is the only player in football that blends the styles of N’golo Kanté and Andrés Iniesta at an elite level. Comparisons with the former of the two is normally dismissed as nothing more than racial profiling, when in fact, the comparison is somewhat valid; which if anything is a testament to how good each individual facet of his skills are. Of his diverse arsenal, one of Keïta’s most notable skills is his dribbling.
The biggest embodiment of the skills inherited from his childhood. Keïta’s dribbling was in the limelight last season, as he finished the season second to only Ousmane Dembélé in dribbles completed – from the middle of the pitch! Keïta uses his dribbling in tandem with his incisive passing – he’s also second for through balls in the Bundesliga, too – which culminated in him being the most prolific goal contributing midfielder p90 in Europe last season. His dribbling wreaks havoc amongst opposition defences; drawing defenders out before utilising Timo Werner’s speed to exploit the space vacated by said defender. Keïta provided 5 of his 7 assists in the league to Werner; making them the 5th most prolific duo in the Bundesliga in 2016/17. Overall, Keïta’s general play is also very good.
Great first touch, great off-the-ball movement, quick and concise. He is the epitome of Ralf Halsenhüttl’s approach and it is no wonder Ralf Ragnick wants to do everything in his power to keep Naby in Leipzig – whether or not that will come to fruition is another matter. He’s the literal engine of the RB Leipzig machine and it’ll be impossible for them to replace him with a single player, should he leave. If N’golo Kanté is the embodiment of 2 players, then Naby Keïta is the embodiment of 3.
He’s key to Leipzig’s defence, build-up and attacking transitions. He’s arguably the most complete midfielder in the world. The only chink in Keïta’s armour, would be his ability in the air – which given his size is actually pretty good. It’s simply something that’s out of his remit due to natural restrictions. Unfortunately, for a 5’8” midfielder, you can’t be perfect. Just ask Lionel Messi – his height was used at a metaphorical stick to beat him with for years.
He may have only done it 1 season in the Bundesliga, but, for his first season in the Bundesliga, at 22, Naby Keïta won the Bundesliga player of the year whist contributing to more goals than any other CM in Europe p90 last season. The scepticism over the fact that’s it’s a one-season-basis is somewhat warranted, but should be outweighed by the sheer excellence that was on show last season.
Keïta is on a clear, upward trajectory that shows no sign of stopping. The next possible stumbling block in his way, is the step-up to Champions League level, which I personally think he’ll have no problems in adapting to. Regardless of where he’s plying his trade next season, the era of Naby is here. This is a once-in-a-generation talent, who, with the right guidance, has the potential to be a great. This is a player that could play any system, anywhere, for any team. This is a special player. This is arguably the most complete central-midfielder in world football at the moment.
By: David Shelley/@DerKopite