- Keita arrives in Leipzig after back-to-back doubles with Salzburg.
- Ambition to become 'the best African footballer.'
- Rangnick relationship crucial to summer transfer, with other European clubs spurned.
The footballing world will be watching with interest when RB Leipzig make their Bundesliga bow at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Sunday. The club's ascension up the divisions has made waves, but in Guinea international Naby Keita, Leipzig have a new player more than ready for the ride.
A summer signing from FC Salzburg, Keita arrives as an Austrian Bundesliga champion with big ambition, but what else is there to know about the "African Deco"? bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
1) Undimmed passion
Keita was born in the Guinean capital Conakry in 1995 into a household of little means. Football equipment was not at the top of the family's shopping list, but that failed to stop a young Keita from playing. "I always looked forward to going to the supermarket with my mother," he explained. "There were a lot of round things to play football with. Unfortunately, there were also things like lampshades, which got broken. My mum always says that shopping with me was very expensive!"
Watch: Big-time beckons for RB Leipzig:
2) Early struggles
Keita joined hometown club Horoya AC aged nine, but seeking a career beyond his homeland at 16 he made the 6,000 kilometre journey to France, lodging with future international teammate Guy-Michel Landel, who was on the books at Le Mans UC 72. Unsuccessful trials at FC Lorient and Le Mans followed, but Keita was unperturbed, and when Guinea defender Bobo Balde arranged a talent-spotting tournament in Marseille two years later, Keita sufficiently impressed Ligue 2 outfit FC Istres, who signed him that November.
3) Wings over Salzburg
After a single season in France Keita joined Austrian champions Salzburg, and quickly dispelled any notion that the step up in competition might prove too difficult. The box-to-box midfielder helped his new employers to the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League - opening his European account against Balde's former club Celtic FC on the way - before sealing back-to-back league and cup doubles with Die Roten Bullen - making it an unprecedented third in a row for the club in the process.
4) Deco-rated player
Born "Naby Laye Keita", those with a keen eye may have noticed that his middle name has been replaced with "Deco" on the player's social media channels. Like the two-time UEFA Champions League-winning midfielder, Keita is diminutive in stature, standing 1m72 tall. His early passes and chipped through-balls are reminiscent of the Brazil-born Portuguese, and after plundering 12 goals and seven assists for Salzburg last season, comparisons with the former FC Porto and FC Barcelona great are growing more justified by the season.
5) Rangnick relationship
Those performances have attracted admiring glances from throughout European club football, but for Keita there was only one destination he had in mind on deciding to leave Salzburg. "[Leipzig sporting director] Ralf [Rangnick] has treated me like a son," he said. "He came to France in 2014 to sign me for Salzburg and I trust him entirely."
The feeling, it seems, is mutual, with Rangnick stating on Keita's arrival: "We are very pleased that Naby Keita has chosen, despite many requests from European clubs, to take his next steps in Leipzig. He fits our young team perfectly, with his dynamism, outstanding technical and tactical skills, and his character."
6) African ambition
Perhaps unsurprisingly for somebody who has already added four team titles and two individual honours to his trophy cabinet mere months on from his 21st birthday, Keita does not lack confidence. "I want to be the best African footballer," he proclaimed earlier his year. "My idol from Africa is [Cote d'Ivoire captain] Yaya Toure. He is strong, works hard and has made it to the very top." A goalscoring Guinea debut against Mali in 2014 and a run to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations last year suggest the reigning Austrian and Guinean player of the year is on the way to achieving his goal.
7) …yet grounded
When asked by redbulletin.com what his life philosophy was recently, Keita immediately replied: "Never forget where your roots are." Of the Bundesliga, Keita is full of respect. "It will be intense, and faster," he said. "There is more pressure, on and off the pitch. I'm a team player who gives my all for the team and tries to meet the tactical orders of the coach […] I joined RB because it is an exciting club with great potential. I didn't want to move to a big Champions League club immediately. It's still too early."
8) No Guinea pig…
Keita will become the fifth Guinean to grace the Bundesliga when he makes his league debut. Pablo Thiam and Taifour Diane turned out for 1.FC Köln and Bayer 04 Leverkusen respectively in the 1994/95 season, with the former going on to win the Bundesliga title with FC Bayern München in 2002/03. Mamadou Bah moonlighted for VfB Stuttgart between 2010 and 2013, whilst flying winger Ibrahima Traore is a key component of the Borussia Mönchengladbach side that finished fourth last season.
Despite his early successes, Keita remains grounded and close to his family in his native Conakry. He describes his mother as the one thing that he could not live without, his ideal Saturday night after a game as an evening of fine dining with Ms. Keita, and says that if he had not made it as a footballer he would "probably, like my father, repair motorcyles."
10) Sense of humour
Aside from breaking lampshades and adopting the moniker "Deco", Keita is happy to laugh at himself. "I would like to learn English," he said. "But before that, I still need to learn German! 'Oachkatzlschwoaf' [Austrian slang for 'squirrel'] should be deleted from the dictionary!"
* Fourth #RBL summer arrival! Midfielder Naby #Keita moves to the Pleiße [river in Leipzig] on a four-year contract!