It’s with a heavy heart I write this. The Naby Keita signing, when it was announced in 2017, is just about as excited as I’ve been for any Liverpool transfer in the past decade.
In terms of giddiness, it was probably only surpassed by the Thiago deal, actually.
But his time at Liverpool should end this summer.
I waited that year he spent at Rb Leipzig before making the eventual 2018 switch watching virtually every highlight video available. In hindsight, that year in Germany waiting for a Liverpool move didn’t do him any good. His stock was highest and he was fully fit and flying in 2017 – we should have paid a little extra to bring him in then and there. In the year he had to wait, Keita lost form and didn’t learn English, which Jurgen Klopp found confusing – given the player knew he’d be moving to a new country.
Talent-wise, he’s exceptional. Only Thiago is a more naturally gifted footballer of all Liverpool’s current midfield options. Immensely skilful, a jinking dribbler and an underrated passer – Keita should be the driving force between our anchoring midfielders and the front-three. A link man with sublime technical ability and pizzazz.
But in three full seasons, he’s picked up FOURTEEN separate injuries – totalling 54 games absent. And this doesn’t count the games he couldn’t play because he was lacking rhythm or full fitness following an injury… Klopp has always waited a few more weeks after players come back into full training before giving them a start, but during that fortnight, Keita’s often picked up a different problem.
I’m putting no blame on Naby. It must be worse for him than any fan that his body isn’t enabling him to live up to his potential. But it’s time to be ruthless – and here’s why.
Another stop-start season from Keita, where he can’t find himself a starting spot, and let’s be honest – there’s been no evidence to suggest he will – and the 26-year-old will have ONE year left on his deal come summer 2022.
By that time, any sell-on value will have decreased massively, and potential suitors will hardball us, given he’ll be available to approach on a Bosman come January 2023 – 18 months away.
This summer, assuming that Keita is not going to have a miraculous recovery in terms of ultra-consistent form and fitness, is the last where we could recoup a decent chunk of the £54m spent.
He’s still a good midfielder at a good age and there’ll be lots of suitors who’ll still look to his incredible Rb Leipzig performances as evidence he can do the same for them.
Watching Real Madrid v Liverpool a few months back, I said to a friend that this would be Keita’s last game for the Reds, after Klopp hauled him off before half-time during a lifeless outing – and sadly – I might be proven correct.
A lovely lad and on his day, a special footballer. But ‘on his day’ doesn’t win you Premier League titles. The two games per week Gini Wijnaldums of this world do, and that’s the kind of player we need to invest in.
Keita has won a Champions League and a Premier League with us. There should be no hard feelings – but this is business and he’s one of the expendable players we could still get good money for without ruining our starting XI.