Tom Canton provides a detailed Scout Report about RB Leipzig’s promising new midfielder, Naby Keïta.
Red Bull Salzburg has been a team known for producing young talent, and as a Salzburg fan myself, I know the pain of seeing these players flourish for a season or two before inevitably being poached by a club in Europe’s elite. Past seasons have seen Ramalho head off to Bayer Leverkusen, Martin Hinteregger escape to Borussia Monchengladbach and, most notably, Sadio Mane become a regular in the Premier League at Southampton. Now though, another prospect has left the Austrian side; the mercurial Naby Keïta is joining newly promoted Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. Could we see another Salzburg youngster gain top-level recognition?
Who is Naby Keïta?
Keïta was born in the Guinean capital Conakry on February 10th 1995. He joined the Horoya youth team in 2004 and remained at the club until the summer of 2013 when he signed for French second division club Istres. Before the move, however, Keïta broke into the Guinean national team and made his debut on July 28th 2013; Keita has gone on to represent his country 12 times scoring 2 goals.
On the 22nd of November, the year he signed, Keïta made his Istres debut in a 4-2 home victory against Nimes. He also scored in this match, volleying home at close range from a corner to make the score 2-1 in favour of the home side. Keïta went on to play 22 more league games for Istres, scoring 4 goals and obtaining 7 assists.
Talent Radar Accolades
The following summer, Keïta’s impressive performances earned him a reported €1.5million move to Austrian Champions Red Bull Salzburg. Keïta was an immediate first team player and would go on to become one of Salzburg’s brightest young talents.
In Keïta’s two seasons at The Bulls, he won back-to-back domestic doubles, however, his first season was not plain sailing. The Guinean only managed to score 5 goals and record 2 assists in 30 Austrian Bundesliga appearances, scoring and assisting once more in Salzburg’s Europa League campaign. Keïta’s form began to improve as, the then manager, Adolf Hütter allowed him more freedom to travel with the ball into more attacking positions, opposed to the deeper role he had been playing in the first half of the season.
Keïta’s second season saw him resume his freer central midfield role, this time under new head coach Peter Zeidler and by the winter break Keita had scored 8 goals. Oscar Garcia took over as manager after the winter-break, and the Spaniard helped Keita to finish the season with 12 goals and 8 assists (which would have been far greater were he able to remain fit for the entire campaign) and a consecutive domestic double.
The news recently broke that Bundesliga newcomer RB Leipzig paid Red Bull Salzburg a massive €15 million to acquire Keïta’s services. Now in one of Europe’s top leagues, Keïta will be truly put to the test.
Style of Play, Strengths, and Weaknesses
Since Keïta joined Salzburg in 2014, the Guinean has played in a number of positions and formations. As previously mentioned, Keïta was deployed in a deeper midfield position under former manager Adolf Hütter – the Austrian then moved Keïta into a freer midfield role and this certainly saw the Guinean prosper; a technique which successor Zeidler took forward into his reign.
Personal discussions I have had with Football Radar’s Austrian analyst Tim Armitage enlightened me to Keïta’s rash style in his early Salzburg career. Tim recalls a game against Malmo, where Keïta committed a horror challenge that should have seen the Guinean sent off. Additionally, Keïta stands just 5ft 8in tall with a reasonable small frame, whilst the young man may run around the field like N’Golo Kante, do not expect there to be any true comparisons with the Frenchman, his defensive play is not his strong suit.
However, as I have mentioned, Keita should no longer be talked about in the category of a central midfielder deployed in a deeper role. Keita flourishes when given the freedom to carry the ball to create attacking situations, or, get involved with some of the fast passing moves that Salzburg have had great success with in recent years. The fast passing, high energy style that Salzburg play, suits Keïta down to the ground; which, ironically, is exactly where he prefers to keep his passes. Keïta has shown that he is quick to draw players out of position and create space for his teammates to exploit, this, in combination with his arsenal of incisive and accurate passing abilities, has seen the likes of Jonathan Soriano benefit greatly on several occasions. In my personal opinion, there are not many players in the same age bracket as Keïta who have the same level of intelligence, especially when it comes to conducting play from the centre of the pitch.
Keïta’s versatility to play in a range of central midfield and attacking midfield positions will be an asset to his new club RB Leipzig. He can play in any of the three attacking midfield positions and although he may favour his right foot, he is certainly akin to using his left with relative ease.
Now at Leipzig, he will no longer be in a squad which is expected to dominate possession, however, with his fast passing and movement, a transition to a counter-attacking style of play should be incorporated into his overall game smoothly. I am most interested to see if his style can be adapted to the competitive nature of the German Bundesliga and if he is able to play with the same level of intelligence when there is much less time to make decisions.
What does the future hold?
The very near future for Keïta lies in Germany. This is a career defining season for Keïta, succeed and he could find himself very quickly playing in the higher echelons of Champions League football, whilst seeing his price-tag rise exponentially, fail and European and African football may lose one of the brightest sparks I have seen in a long time.
The transition to RB Leipzig will be a move Keïta should find easier compared to when other players move, this is due to a relationship between the two clubs. Just last summer, 5 players who were plying their trade at The Bulls during the 2014/15 season all played for RB Leipzig frequently the following year – the familiarity should help Keïta bed into his new club.
Some may think that I have overrated Keïta during this report, as a Salzburg fan of course I find my liking for the kid to come much easier, but having witnessed what Keïta can do on a weekly basis, I am very sure that he will fulfil my, and many other fans, expectations.
Written by Tom Canton
Tom Canton is an aspiring football journalist with a love for Spanish and Austrian football. A diehard Arsenal fan and Red Bull Salzburg follower, these loves have led him into the blogging and podcasting world. When not contributing for OOTB you can find his Kentish charm on his YouTube channel "The Gooner Talk" and The Football Hipsters Podcast. His twitter (@TCanton94) is often filled with respectable debate and further topics for discussion are welcomed with open arms.
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