We take a closer look at the BBC African Footballer of the year nominee who drove his team to a historic second place in the league and secured a record £48m African transfer fee to Liverpool.
By SportBrief Reporter
The highly sought after midfielder has come a long way from when his talent was first discovered by a local scout while playing football in the streets of Guinea on the tarmac.
“This nice gentleman saw me play street football and thought that if I was supported, I could became a great player,” recalls Keita.
“He then took me under his wings, and spoke to my parents. He worked to find sponsors and said it would be good if I went to Europe to see if I was really good. That’s how I ended up in Istres.”
After trials at French sides Lorient and Le Mans failed in 2011, Keita rocked up at a talent-spotting tournament organised by Celtic legend Balde in Marseille two years later.
“Naby had inconclusive negotiations with a few clubs and each time had to come back to Guinea,” said agent Malick Kebe, who helped Keita find his first club in Guinea.
“But he has always been a fighter,” he adds of a player who used to have to ask his team-mates for food.
In Marseille, Keita was finally snapped up by second division side Istres but, despite scoring four goals in his maiden campaign in Europe, he could not prevent relegation.
Yet his talents had not gone unnoticed and, in the 2014 off-season, Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg secured the then 19-year-old’s services for a bargain $2m.
Two years later, he was sold for 20 times that to Leipzig following a spell in which Keita and Salzburg won back-to-back Austrian doubles.
The Guinean was crowned the club’s Player of the Year in 2015-16, during which he scored 12 goals and made seven.
“He’s a modern midfielder who can defend, attack, score goals, pass, assist and has skills,” said Cameroon’s Africa Cup of Nations winner Arnaud Djoum. “As a midfielder, I really love to watch him.”
Curiously, the star was known as Naby Laye Keita when he left Guinea, but his registration with Salzburg’s sister club Leipzig – and therefore the German league – officially lists him as Naby Deco Keita.
Deco, the former Portugal striker, was the favourite of Keita’s father, a motorbike mechanic, when Keita was growing up – and he has since adopted Deco’s name.
There are similarities – small in stature, comfortable in possession and with an ability to glide past opponents – all of which helped Leipzig secure the best finish of any promoted side in Bundesliga history last season.
That impressive resume along with Keita’s remarkable defensive capabilities, has seen Liverpool agree an African record £48m ($64m) deal to sign him in July 2018.
Having fulfilled one fantasy, Keita has now set his sights on another: ensuring that his country, which has never won the Africa Cup of Nations, can one day take its place at football’s top table.
“It’s my dream to help Guinea reach the World Cup at least once. I can’t do it by myself of course but if we have young ambitious players who want to help the country, we can make it.”