COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
The dynamic midfielder demonstrated both his defensive and his offensive qualities as the top flight new boys secured a Champions League berth.
His employers have insisted that he's not going anywhere, but as they know, money talks in this business, and bigger clubs are circling...
The story of last season
It was quite the entrance by RB Leipzig in 2016/2017, playing their first ever top-flight Bundesliga season. They are often derided, but the youthful zest with which they set about upsetting the establishment made for one of the more exciting title races in recent memory.
Keita, Guinea international, aged 22, is the gleaming gem in the centre of the club’s diadem.
Eight goals and eight assists do not tell the full story for a player nominally listed as a defensive midfielder, as it is safe to say there is no talent quite like Keita. In many ways, the Guinean is the sort of player Manchester United thought they were getting (back) from Juventus when they forked out a world record fee for Paul Pogba.
Keita averaged 2.6 tackles, 2.6 interceptions, and 2.7 dribbles per game in the Bundesliga last season, a testament to his range and uniqueness.
In spite of his all-action style, he only missed one game through injury, the opening day draw away at Hoffenheim, and played the full 90 minutes on 21 occasions. Boundless energy and mobility, underpinned by flair and forward impetus: last season, Keita proved himself to be the complete package.
What could happen this window?
It will come as no surprise that Keita is highly sought after this summer. Liverpool have been at full pelt, trying to get to the talented midfielder, only to see their advances repeatedly rebuffed by RB Leipzig.
The stance of the German side is apparently a strong one: it is reported that, contrary to prior information, there is no release clause in the player’s contract; also it is worth noting that Leipzig are not lacking in financial muscle of their own.
The club is in a healthy place, having secured a place in next season’s Champions League, a point that Sporting Director Ralf Rangnick was quick to stress at a press briefing last week. The player is at present unwilling to force a move, a factor which could have shifted the advantage to Liverpool.
Essentially, their hand cannot be forced; Die Roten Bullen will only sell Keita on their own terms. Those terms do not include this summer. RB Leipzig are reportedly ready to rebuff a bid up to 100 million euros, so insistent are they on keeping the Guinea international.
What to expect next season
If his rise continues at this clip, it is hard to see how Keita remains at Leipzig by the beginnig of next season. Interest, whether in the form of Liverpool or another big-spending club, will eventually whisk him away.
However, Leipzig will hold all the aces. At 22, and barring a debilitating injury, there is really only one direction for the player to go: up. It is not difficult to envisage that, when he does move, it will be for a fee close to world record.
Rangnick was unequivocal in rejecting all suggestions of sales, not just regarding Keita, but all of the club’s top players. Having run Bayern Munich as close as anyone in recent times, they may be placed to do something no other team has been able to do in Germany: challenge Bayern two seasons in a row without being picked off by the Bavarian giants.
Retaining Keita will be key to any success Leipzig can have next season, and also to making as big a splash in the Champions League as they did in Bundesliga last season.