Football

From Kitman's Closet To Champions League: The Rise Of Naby Keita

From Kitman's Closet To Champions League: The Rise Of Naby Keita

Tonight, all fifty-million pounds worth of Naby Keita will walk out for Liverpool under the Anfield lights, as the Reds go into battle with German giants Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16 tie.

It's a team who has enjoyed mixed fortunes against during his two years in Germany. Having moved to the Bundesliga in 2016, the former RB Leipzig midfielder has gone up against the Bavarians on five occasions. In one of four defeats, he was sent off in an October '17 cup clash for picking up two yellow cards minutes apart from each other.

OK, mixed fortunes may be a bit of a stretch, but he will at least have fond memories of the last time he turned out against the German champions. He grabbed a goal and an assist in a come-from-behind league win in front of home support, as his time in Saxony meandered to an end last season.

Keita has endured a difficult start to life at Liverpool since his summer move and has only managed to assert himself at the heart of Liverpool's first-choice midfield trio in the last few weeks. Slowly but surely, however, the commanding performances we were promised from the Guinean have begun to eek their way into existence and make no mistake, he will be crucial to any progress the Merseysider's make both tonight and beyond in the competition.

A mark of the 24-year-old's perseverance, perhaps?

Well, if former Istres teammate, Rafael Assis is to be believed, Naby Keita is well versed in overcoming inaudacious starts.

Speaking to ESPN in his native Brazil, the former Fluminense striker, who spent time on loan at the French outfit when a teenage Keita arrived to take his first steps in the professional game, has given an insight into the humbling scenario the youngster found himself in.

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I remember Keita very well ... Keita, no. We used to call him Naby.

He went to the club [ Istres ] to do tests. [After signing] he lived with our kitman, at the time, in a little room, he did not have any difficulties, but he did not have much, you know.

In a further insight into the financial struggles Keita endured after his move from Conakry youth team side Horoya, Assis harked back to a shopping trip both players went on.

"There was a time we went to the mall to do some shopping", began the forward, now with third division side Náutico in his homeland. "I, my Brazilian friend, another French friend and he. We were all excited about buying things, but he was out of money at the time and he stood there and watched us".

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Happy birthday to me ⚽️🔴

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Immediately we told him we would help him. We would make a kitty for him to buy whatever he wanted with us. This story is something I always remember when I am at home or with my friends. That is why I say that all the success that he has now is the result of a lot of work, and he deserves a lot of it, because he is very humble, a very good guy.

Keita scored 11 goals in 23 appearances in his one and only season in the south of France, a campaign which saw Istres relegated from Ligue 2.

His talent was spotted by Austrian money men Red Bull Salzburg where he would go on to win the Austrian Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2016 before making the switch to sister club Leipzig, across the border in Germany.

With less than a half hour to go to kick-off, it's a story of resolve that Liverpool fans will definitely welcome.

Jurgen Klopp's side will have to negotiate the daunting first-leg encounter without defensive regulars Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren in their ranks. Keita will start in midfield with Brazilian colleague Fabinho reverting to a role at the heart of a makeshift defence that will be tasked with the none-too-easy task of keeping a vibrant Bayern attack at bay.

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Aaron Strain

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