Naby Keita (r.) has blossomed into a complete midfielder at RB Leipzig following his summer arrival from FC Salzburg. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA / Boris Streubel
Naby Keita (r.) has blossomed into a complete midfielder at RB Leipzig following his summer arrival from FC Salzburg. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA / Boris Streubel

Naby 'Deco' Keita: living up to his twinkle-toed Portuguese namesake

From Bayern Munich legend Franz 'Der Kaiser' Beckenbauer to Borussia Dortmund superstar Marco 'Rolls' Reus, unusual names in football are nothing new. Yet there is nevertheless something intriguing about the case of RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Deco Keita.

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Unlike Beckenbauer and Reus, whose monikers are light-hearted nicknames alluding to their on-field prowess, with Keita it is actually official: the Guinea international was born Naby Laye Keita, but has since been registered with Leipzig and therefore the DFL with the former Barcelona and Portugal star Deco’s name.

"I think he was my father's favourite when I was small," Keita said. "He was a top player." That is quite the understatement. Deco won the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2006 and finished second in the 2004 Ballon d'Or vote. The Brazil native was revered around the world for his skill and grace on the ball, his hypnotizing dribbling, and vision in picking apart opposition defences with perfectly-weighted passes.

If Keita was hoping for some of that magic to rub off on him, it has certainly worked. While the 22-year-old has earned a reputation as a box-to-box midfield engine, able to snuff out opposition attacks thanks to his dynamism and tireless running, that does not tell the full story.

Watching Keita go forward has been breathtaking at times this season. For instance, on Matchday 12 he scored a sublime effort from distance in a 4-1 win away to Freiburg, dipping a shoulder and jinking past his marker before arrowing a shot into the top corner.

Later, on Matchday 27, he netted a sensational goal in Leipzig's 3-2 win over Mainz, dribbling past five players in midfield before slotting in from close range.

Watch: Keita hit a brace on Matchday 26 as Leipzig humbled Darmstadt

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In total he has found the net eight times in the Bundesliga, putting his team 1-0 up on four occasions, while also contributing seven assists in an astonishing debut top-flight campaign. It is no surprise then, that Keita has started 27 of Leipzig's league games this term.

As head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl put it recently: "He's a delight to watch on the ball. He always makes the right decision. You really can't leave him out."

Part of what makes Keita such an integral part of the Leipzig side is his unpredictability. He has attempted 189 dribbles this term – only three players in the Bundesliga have made more – reaching a top speed of 32.4 km/h in full flight.

Watch:The rise of Keita

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And when not directly taking on opposition players he is invariably picking a way through them. His pass completion rate of 81 per cent may is among the best in the business considering his adventurous playing style: "I'm the kind of player who takes risks out on the pitch and that can lead to success."

It already has. Leipzig are guaranteed a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage next season and need just one victory from their last two games to beat the current record of 68 points for a newly-promoted team, set by champions Kaiserslautern in 1998.

Not that the Bundesliga star-in-the-making is content to rest on his laurels. "I dream of being the best player in Africa, and one day the world," he said recently. "Lionel Messi is the best footballer on the planet right now, and I’d like to experience similar successes to him."

With a hugely promising career still ahead of him, few would dare bet against that happening. And who knows, in a few years we may start seeing players dubbed 'Naby' after their parents' favourite player.

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