19 Midfielder Lazio Spain
2014 has been...
A little overhyped.
Ok, we’re all familiar with the ‘ex- Barcelona’ line and you’ll probably hear it for a long, long time yet, but Keita Baldé Diao has been with Lazio for well over three years now and is very much their product. Move on.
He ticked over nicely in the Primavera side (youth team) before being granted an EU passport - Spanish of course - and a route into the first team at the Stadio Olimpico. That route was never really in too much doubt. Lazio were well aware that they had played something of a blinder in securing the teenager amid interest from just about every big club in Europe once Barca had questioned whether he was worth retaining. Adapting to the physical aspects of Serie A wasn’t ever likely to be an issue - at 17, Keita was an exceptionally powerful young man and dealing with the most aggressive defensive opponent would not pose too much of an issue.
His debut for I Biancocelesti arrived in the closing stages of a 3-0 victory over Chievo in September 2013. A long run on the substitutes bench followed, but Keita was granted his first start by Vladimir Petković in a 1-1 draw with Parma in which he also scored. The goal was, inevitably, something of a watershed with the young winger/striker afforded much more game time from there on in. At the end of the 2013/14 season, he had scored six times and laid on nine assists from 33 appearances, not bad going for someone so young. Since? Less impressive.
No sooner had he made his debut than Keita was subject to speculation linking him elsewhere with all of the usual suspects named. Once he had hit his first goal in Italian football that speculation intensified and hasn’t really let up since. Nevertheless, performances have rarely warranted the hype.
Yes, Keita is talented. He’s quick, he’s strong and he really is a handful for opponents, but he has seldom looked capable of genuinely taking control of a match. That may be a little harsh, we are talking about a teenager here after all, but since that run of games in 2013/14, Keita hasn’t really been much of feature for Lazio in Serie A.
His club began the current season badly, losing three of their opening four matches, but new coach Stefano Pioli has steadied the ship of late and Lazio look a reasonable bet to make the top half of the table if nothing else. Returning to substitutes duty of late, Keita has recently suffered both a hamstring injury and a mangled Lamborghini – an equally regular thing for young footballers - which have kept him away from first team duties. Has he been missed? It’s worth noting that Lazio’s recent four match winning run occurred without the youngster in the team.
Of late, Pioli has opted for experience over youthfulness with Antonio Candreva, Stefano Mauri and Senad Lulic providing a foil for Filip Djordevic. It’s a ploy that’s worked reasonably well so far, but all of these players are the wrong side of 27 and to imagine that all will remain fit for a full season is pushing it. With this in mind there’s a degree of inevitability that Keita will be involved again at some point. Indeed, he was given a start at home to Juventus recently, but failed to provide much of a threat to the champions and was replaced on the hour mark. That mustn’t turn out to be the default.
Over the last few weeks we’ve seen Arsenal mentioned as potential suitors with those pesky ‘sources’ suggesting that Arsene Wenger has watched the young Spaniard regularly over the last year. If that’s true then he’ll have seen what we’ve witnessed: a very raw talent, but not someone we’d imagine Wenger would be writing out cheques for in that carefree manner he so often does…(ahem).
One particular outlet indicated Lazio would be prepared to accept €30m for their protégé. We’d suggest that if anyone was to offer anything like that, Lazio would promptly tear said buyers hand off, put them up for the night, cook them breakfast and drive them to the airport the next morning. Yes, Keita is a potential diamond, but there’s a lot more potential here than diamond right now. He can destroy an opponent with a combination of aggression and speed, nutmeg another, and another, and then massively over hit an easy lay off leaving a well placed colleague furious. That’s never a good look.
He’s still very young and has time to develop further, but it’s Keita’s advanced physical development that we felt offered him an advantage over his peers in 2014. As it stands, there needs to be an awful lot more going on.
Twelve months ago, we really thought that Keita had enough swagger to tear up Serie A. He’s given us flashes and the odd indicator, but we’re a lot less sure this time around.
"Barcelona’s loss most definitely has been Lazio’s gain, Keita is clearly gifted but appears to be equally adept at causing off-field upset. Great dribbler with a good shot, he passes well & hopefully will mature quickly." - Adam Digby
"Keita scored five times and assisted another three in 1370 minutes of league action last season." - OptaJoe
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