20 Midfielder RB Salzburg Guinea
Naby Keïta headed for Austria and joined Red Bull Salzburg from French outfit FC Istres in the summer of 2014, and he took to the Bundesliga like a duck to water. The central midfielder made his international debut for Guinea in 2013 but it wasn’t until he submitted to the taurine that he really shot into the wider European football consciousness.
He was a terrific spot by the serial Austrian champions. Red Bull is a rampant breeding ground for young players and Keïta is right up there with the best they’ve found, snared or produced themselves.
2015 has been…
All guns blazing. Keïta played in the Africa Cup of Nations in perhaps the least thrilling form of his year. In the game against Ivory Coast in particular he was uncharacteristically quiet and a little error-prone when controlling the ball but he was the man trying to make something happen in a difficult match that afforded Guinea little possession.
He was employing a simple move that he’s made his own this year: picking up the ball in central midfield, pinging it out to runners and hitting the edge of the box for a return. He’s become a regular for Guinea and has been instrumental in their progress in qualifying for FIFA World Cup 2018. In November, a goal in each leg saw them past Namibia and into the Third Round of African qualifying.
But it’s in the white jersey of Salzburg that Keïta’s coming into his own. He starts games slowly too often and, very occasionally, one will seem to pass him by. But, by and large, he’s emerging as a key player and having a positive impact on the regular. After securing the double with Keïta in the side last season RBS are on the hunt again and Keïta’s in the thick of it in the middle of the park.
He’s an energetic box-to-box man with the ever-fashionable low centre of gravity and tremendous balance on the ball, enabling him to shift past a man with a shimmy in a tight spot. He’s at his best when finding the simplest space and playing the simplest pass but he offers good link play, an intelligent touch (given a bit of room) and a ferocious knack for scrapping when not in possession.
When he’s on the ball he just glides forward with it, striding ambitiously onward and breathing life into the team performance. He doesn’t often get into the box but when he does he attacks the ball well and scores some unstoppable goals. He dribbles past players for fun, crosses a mean low ball and, best of all, he’ll do it all together. Keïta is a very classy player with an incredible engine.
The most notable thing about Keïta is that when he plays well, Salzburg play well. That being the case there are flaws that could do with some attention. Some of his short passing can be rather rushed, risky and ragged. His finishing will improve over time and that could make him extremely dangerous if he can convert his wonderful work rate into a habit of arriving at the right moment at the edge of the box.
Make no mistake, there are shortcomings. He needs to get involved more but when he’s on it, he’s a joy. In some games he will be quiet and then suddenly he’ll appear to have the ball on a string, even when it’s up around his neck and needs bringing down under pressure. It’s a big responsibility for a 20-year-old player but it’s one he’ll thrive on.
Austrian football experts rate Keïta very highly. We do too, but his next move will be the one that decides the direction of his career and the kinks will need to be ironed out before he hits the next level up.
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