RB Leipzig have been making quite a splash in their debut Bundesliga season and at the heart of the barnstorming collective effort, several new names have fast-tracked their way to top-flight stardom.
Heading the cast in the eyes of many experts is Naby Keita, who has emerged as the deep-lying creative hub of FC Bayern München's closest current pursuers. Keita joined Leipzig in the summer from Austrian sister club FC Red Bull Salzburg, whom he had helped to successive league and cup doubles. For his contribution to the second of those, the 21-year-old Guinea international was voted the Austrian Bundesliga's Player of the Season.
Despite interest from some big-name clubs around Europe, he then opted for a move to Saxony – saying at the time, “With Leipzig, I have a fantastic chance to take a fresh career step. The prospect of playing for a team with exciting ambitions in the league of the world champions really sealed the deal for me.”
If he arrived there still a relative unknown on the wider stage, his performances for the upwardly-meteoric new boys soon changed that. In the defensive department Keita currently tops the Bundesliga chart for interceptions, thanks above all to his uncanny reading of the game. That positional sense, combined with a low foul count, has been a key factor in the overall structure that leaves attack-orientated Leipzig with the joint third-best defence in the division.
In possession, Keita can move things forward with pace and accuracy, be it through a short pass or a raking long ball. The dynamic number 8 can also carve his way through the opposition ranks single-handed, thanks to his exceptional close control; while the aforementioned tactical awareness gets him into the kind of positions that have seen him chip in with four league goals so far.
In short, the young man from the Guinean capital Conakry is already equipped with all the requisite qualities of an elite box-to-box midfielder. He has made no bones about his ultimate ambition to become “the best player in Africa” and is thus far going about it in a singularly pro-active fashion.
After two straight Austrian Bundesliga titles, he now finds himself at the heart of an unlikely bid for a German one. Should Naby Keita and Leipzig pull it off, club and player alike will find themselves propelled into another sphere altogether.