Indeed, in April and May, he scored seven goals in a four-match spell, including a record-breaking hat-trick against Palermo.
It was the kind of showing that writes headlines, with the Senegal international ensuring that one or two high-profile suitors will once again be tempted to look in his direction during the transfer window.
The story of last season
It was in 2016/2017 that the hot, molten talent of Balde Keita Diao began to solidify.
The appointment of manager Simone Inzaghi on a permanent basis last summer set things in motion, but it was the whirring limbs of the wily Senegalese road runner, in tandem with top scorer Ciro Immobile, that did the rest.
At 22, he is now beginning to fill out the mould of his immense potential. The winger finished the season with 16 goals and five assists, his best ever direct goal contribution in a single term—for context, he scored four and laid on seven in 2015/2016.
His form toward the end of the season was particularly remarkable, and served to show just how rangy his abilities really are, as Keita flourished playing in a more central position.
He fired off a hat-trick in the aforementioned 6-2 mauling of Palermo, before then scoring once and assisting twice as Sampdoria were felled 7-3. These sandwiched a headline performance in the Rome Derby against eternal rivals Roma: Keita grabbing a brace in a devastating centre-forward display.
He scored in five of Lazio’s last six league games, missing the final day of the season through suspension.
What could happen this window?
There has been significant interest in Keita from clubs across Europe. Indeed, it has been reported that Liverpool put in a significant bid for his services before landing Mohamed Salah from Roma. We are left to drool over what might have been: a potential Senegalese double-act with Sadio Mane at Anfield.
Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and AC Milan have also expressed a keen interest, and a sizable bid from the North London side was reportedly accepted by Lazio, only for the player to balk at the chance to join Mauricio Pochettino’s revolution.
As part of their ongoing restructuring, Milan were also believed to have a deal agreed for a double swoop for both Keita and Lucas Biglia from Lazio, but the reluctance of the player to move to join put paid to their chances.
In this moment, it appears that Serie A champions and Champions League finalists Juventus have the upper hand in the race to land the speedy forward. The player himself is believed to favour a move to Turin himself, putting La Vecchia Signora in a strong position in any potential transfer negotiations.
What to expect next season
The player’s agent, Roberto Calenda, has been vocal in his insistence that he be sold this summer, as Lazio have not offered Keita a new deal, and the wishes of the 22-year-old have not been respected.
The club have argued otherwise, claiming an offer was tabled in 2016, but as things stand, Keita has a year left on his contract with the Biancocelesti .
Whether this is typical agent posturing remains to be seen. Whatever the case may be, Lazio have clearly not handled the situation with the urgency it deserves, and would certainly rather not lose the player for nothing next summer.
If Juventus do return for the player (they have signed Patrik Schick from Sampdoria and permanently acquired Juan Cuadrado from Chelsea), it would complete quite a frontline for them.
It is worth noting that Keita was not an undisputed starter at Lazio last season (he only started 16 games!), and so while it would be an interesting duel for the right flank with Cuadrado, starting on the bench when Juventus play with three at the back is unlikely to blunt his impact significantly.