In my previous two analyses of Naby Keïta I looked at where he would fit in Liverpool’s midfield, his personal qualities, and how he compares statistically to some of the top midfielders in the Premier League.
Having gone through his numbers, it would appear he is a perfect fit for Liverpool and Klopp. However, there are two key issues when it comes to Keïta’s prospective transfer: the price, and whether his success in 2016/17 can be replicated.
With a reported valuation of £60-70 million, Keïta’s transfer would likely take up a great portion of LFC’s transfer budget; whilst a new midfielder would be welcome, bearing in mind Liverpool have let Lucas leave, and were left threadbare with Henderson injured, the question is whether Liverpool should spend such a large fee on a centre midfielder, when there are other key positions that require investment.
Liverpool, like the rest of the Premier League teams, may have received a cash windfall, but the club still lacks the financial clout of the Manchester clubs, and thus any money spent on one player will be money that cannot be spent on another. Essentially it’s worth questioning whether the cost of the Keïta move has caused Liverpool to pursue cheaper alternatives in positions such as left-back – as Liverpool have now secured Hull’s Andy Robertson, whereas previously the club was apparently interested in Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy, reportedly valued at £40 million, and with substantial wage demands.
In fairness to the club, this is very unlikely to be true. All reports coming from journalists over the past few months have indicated that the ownership is willing to fully back Jürgen Klopp and pursue his top choices, as the board has learnt from previous cost and corner-cutting mistakes. Additionally, Klopp himself is extremely unlikely to accept nothing but what he, and his team, feel are the very best players for his squad – the same way Sadio Mané may not have been first choice, but was still a perfect fit.
What is worth asking though is whether Keïta is actually worth purchasing considering he has only had one barnstorming season in the Bundesliga, for a team which also played phenomenally well. Could this be a case of what I shall call ‘Leicester syndrome’? Is Keïta a one-season wonder?
The podcast detailed Keïta’s numbers; he scored 12 goals and provided 8 assists, from 2179 minutes, averaging a goal involvement every 108 minutes. Additionally, the podcast also discussed how Keïta was used in different positions within the midfield, but also how he has experience within a counter-pressing system, and how his consistency improved, following the first few months, when he was aged only 19.
Keïta was described as perfect for Liverpool by the scouting experts on the pod, who concluded that the style of play he has developed would not only be perfect in terms of him bedding into the side but also for getting the best out of Liverpool’s pacy wide-players, and the midfielders alongside him.
When we come back to the second question posed at the beginning of this piece, whether Keïta could replicate his form, the evidence presented by those who have scouted him, before he moved to Leipzig, is compelling. Keïta’s sustained performances over the past two seasons suggest that he is not just a fantastic player, but one that will become even better over the coming years – no wonder Bayern Munich are favourites to secure his services next season, once his release clause activates, providing Leipzig do not tie Keïta down to a new contract.
Where does this leave Liverpool though? The club has been rebuffed twice and is reassessing its options in a situation that is incredibly hard to keep afloat of. Having invested so much time into attempting to secure a player, and having identified his qualities, which suit Liverpool to a tee, it seems taking a risk and offering the full-whack, of £70 million, or maybe, even more, may well be necessary. Clubs across the continent are aware Premier League clubs have money, and that Liverpool is in the market to strengthen. Centre-midfield may not be a position that requires an investment of £70 million+, but when the right player is available, the club should pull out every stop to force a deal. It’s very rare a player so well suited to Liverpool’s specific style of play, or philosophy becomes available – we need only look at the numbers of players that have failed to fit in to see the importance of the specificity of Liverpool’s requirements – see Benteke, Carroll etc. – so it very much seems that Keïta is a risk worth taking.
Liverpool has too often kept tabs on good players, who have gone on to develop into fantastic ones, but failed to act, and seize the opportunity of availability before another club swooped in. Keïta seems dead-set to develop into one of those fantastic players that Liverpool will rue missing out on. Liverpool have finally identified and pursued one of these players; it’s now just about forcing this deal over the line.
Naby Keïta is worth the risk. Now it’s time for Liverpool to make an offer they can’t refuse.