Naby Laye Keïta was born on 10 February 1995, in Conakry, the capital (and largest city) of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. His father nicknamed him Deco, after the retired midfielder, and Naby grew up supporting Barcelona. As he was surrounded by friends who supported Liverpool Football Club, though, he developed a fondness for them as well and even wore the LFC club kit with his hometown football team two years in a row. Naby joined his hometown football team, Horoya Athlétique Club (also known as Horoya Conakry or H.A.C.), in 2004 at the age of nine and stayed at the club until 2012, when he moved to France.
Naby’s football career, before Liverpool
Having had unsuccessful trials at FC Lorient and Le Mans FC, Naby joined the youth team of the French association football club, FC Istres. The following year, he was promoted to the first team and scored 11 goals in 23 games in his first season as a professional. Sadly though, the side was relegated from Ligue 2 to the Championnat National, the third division of the French football league system (behind Ligue 1 and Ligue 2).
Naby then joined the Austrian top division side, FC Red Bull Salzburg, after FC Istres’ and made his league debut on 26 July 2014. He played 30 games in his first season with Salzburg (5 goals, 2 assists) as the club went on to win the league and the league cup. The following season, Naby was named the Austrian Bundesliga Player of the Year after winning the league and the league cup with Salzburg for the second season in a row, which was an unprecedented third in a row for the club. After 81 appearances and 20 goals, Naby moved to RB Salzburg’s sister club, RasenBallsport Leipzig e.V., otherwise known as RB Leipzig, in June 2016 after the club’s promotion to the German Bundesliga from 2. Bundesliga.
He scored the winning goal on his debut against Borussia Dortmund, on the opening day of the season at Mainz. Naby would go on to become an integral part of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Leipzig and fundamental to their high-pressing game, thanks to his unpredictability. Naby made 71 appearances for Leipzig and scored 17 goals and made 14 assists in the Bundesliga.
On 28 August 2017, it was announced that Liverpool and RB Leipzig had agreed on a deal that would see Naby join Liverpool on 1 July 2018 after LFC had triggered his release clause of approximately GBP 48 million.
The midfielder made his international debut for the Guinea National Team in 2013, in an African Nations qualifications match against Mali. He has made 28 appearances for the National Elephants and scored five goals. The Guinea side has never qualified for the World Cup and list their second-place finish in 1976 as their best in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
Style of play
Naby is an adventurous, dynamic player and the embodiment of the complete midfielder, capable of playing as a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder, or as a box to box powerhouse. He can sniff out opposition attacks and not only takes on opposition players but picks his way through them too. Naby enjoys taking risks on the pitch as he says they do often lead to success. Leipzig’s (now former) head coach, Ralph Hasenhüttl has said that he is a delight to watch on the ball, always making the right decisions and thus it was virtually impossible to leave him out of the starting eleven.
Red Bull Salzburg
- Austrian Football Bundesliga: 2014–15, 2015–16
- Austrian Cup: 2014–15, 2015–16
- Bundesliga Team of the Season: 2016–17
- UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season: 2017–18
Stay tuned for The Player Behind the Name: Naby Keïta, Part Two, coming soon.