If you can impress a striker of the calibre of Robert Lewandowski by the time you're 20 then you must be doing something right. bundesliga.com looks back on France and Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate's formative stint at RB Leipzig...
Konate came through the ranks at French second division side FC Sochaux, having joined their boarding academy at the age of 15, moving 300 miles south-east of his native Paris in 2014 to pursue his dream of becoming a footballer. Just two years later it came true when he signed his first professional contract, and in the 2016/17 season the defender made his senior debut for Sochaux, taking to the pitch 12 times and scoring once.
By then the 6'4" hulk had attracted the attention of some of Europe's biggest clubs and Leipzig won the race for his signature in summer 2017, thanks to their ambitious project of targeting silverware by trusting in gifted young players under the age of 25.
"I'm particularly delighted with our coup in signing Ibrahima Konate," enthused former Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick on signing Konate. "We got him on a free transfer from Sochaux. He's is so good that he could play for Real Madrid or Barcelona one day."
Watch: Konate's Bundesliga mixtape!
Aged 18, Konate was thrust into the Bundesliga for the first time on Matchday 7 of the 2017/18 campaign, starting the side's 2-1 win away to Cologne. That was the first of 16 top-flight appearances that season, often keeping club captain and fellow centre-back Willi Orban out of the side.
Konate cemented his place in the first team in 2018/19, starting 27 league games - scoring his first goal against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Matchday 19 - and another five in the DFB Cup to help Die Roten Bullen finish third in the Bundesliga and as runners-up in the cup to Bayern Munich.
And with good reason. The Leipzig No. 6 won just under 65 per cent of all tackles that season, a well-above-average quota that rose to above 70 per cent in the air, whilst posting over 85 per cent pass accuracy.
Konate's appearances in 2019/20 and 2020/21 were limited due to serious muscle and ankle injuries, but he still managed to hit 95 competitive appearances before linking up with Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool in the summer of 2021.
A France youth international since U16 level, Konate won his first senior cap in June 2022 and his sixth in his country's 2022 World Cup semi-final victory over Morocco. Nicknamed 'Ibu' by his mum at an early age - playfully extended to the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug 'Ibuprofen' during his Leipzig days - he'll be hoping to give Argentina's Lionel Messi a real headache in the final.
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