2017 22under22 Countdown – #10: Naby Keita

“Naby is strong and intelligent, he reminds me of Andres Iniesta.”
– Luis Fernandez, Former French Player of the Year

Date of birth: February 10th, 1995 (22 years old)
Nationality: Guinea
Position: Central Midfielder
Club Appearances: 22 (8 goals)
International Appearances: 19
EiF Ability Rating: 65

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.*

22under22 continues with the midfield maestro, Naby Keita. At just 22 years old, the diminutive Guinean has had a wonderful season as a central midfielder for the resurgent RB Leipzig. Much has been said about RB Leipzig so far this year and Keita, signed from sister club RB Salzburg this past summer, has been a shining star. Performing the attacking role in Leipzig’s 2 man deep lying midfield, Keita impresses with his all-around ability to dribble, pass, tackle, and score. The terms “box to box” and “complete package” are often thrown around, but Keita represents the truest form of such superlatives. There are already rumors that Liverpool and Arsenal are interested in a transfer for what is surely one of the brightest midfield talents in the world.

Naby Keita was born in Conakry, Guinea on February 10th, 1995 and made the move to France to the FC Istres academy from his hometown club when he was 17. Two years later, Keita moved to Austrian powerhouse FC Red Bull Salzburg where he won the Austrian Bundesliga Player of the Year in just his second season at the age of 21. This past summer, Keita moved to Salzburg sister club RB Leipzig for a fee of 15 million euros. Since then, he’s played a starring role in an odds-defying squad that has battled its way to second place in the Bundesliga. It’s been a stellar debut season in the German top division for RB Liepzig and their star man.


Photo: Getty Images

It’d be easier to list what Keita doesn’t excel at. He has everything it takes to command the center of the park in modern day football: pace, passing, tackling, dribbling, and finishing. The Guinean is extremely adept at pressing the ball on defense and has the ability to quickly counter with slick dribbling and a keen eye for a pass. Furthermore, his 8 goals thus far this season represent a willingness and capability to finish off Liepzig attacks. Additionally, Keita has a long shot in his repertoire, and he does not hesitate to use it. One of his most exquisite finishes this year came in just the second minute in a match against Freiburg

When thinking of similar players to Keita, Radja Nainggolan comes to mind. The powerful Belgian midfielder is slightly more aggressive (some might say reckless) than Keita, but similar technical and all around ability is shared between the two players.


Photo: Getty Images

Standing at 5 foot 7 inches (1.72m), Keita is quote often one of the shorter players on the pitch. While there are many world class midfielders short in stature, Modric and Kante come to mind, it will be a challenge for Keita to compete against some more physical midfielders. If any of the current rumors are to be believed, a pending move to England would be testing given the physical nature of the league.

Additionally, Keita’s decision making can often let him, and his teammates, down in the final third. There is no question of his ability to pass, nor dribble past an opponent, but it is often his decision of which to do that can lead to a breakdown in attack. Naturally, you could say this about almost any 22 year old, and a starting role on Leipzig gives Keita the opportunity to grow week in and week out.

There is little question that Naby Keita will be a name heard long into the future. Many might not know the Guinean now, given his age and the international stature of his club, but Leipzig’s rise to second in the Bundesliga will soon turn heads and Keita will be seen as the leading man. RB Leipzig Sporting Director Ralf Rangnick recently claimed that he wouldn’t swap Keita for Paul Pogba, and with no release clause in his contract Leipzig will do everything they can to hold on to Keita when his suitors inevitably come knocking. While Pogba comparisons may seem hyperbolic at the moment, Keita’s meteoritic rise has proven that he will soon belong in such fantastical conversations.

Previous: No. 11, French speedster, Anthony Martial

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