It has been a big year for Ibrahima Konaté. The young defender became Liverpool’s key transfer target last summer, making the move from Red Bull Leipzig. While Konaté had shown to have bags of potential, it was unclear where he would fit in during his first season with the Reds as they already had established players in Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, and Nat Phillips in the same position.
The Frenchman earned regular minutes during the season, rotating starts with Joel Matip in the Premier League, and getting eight starts in the Champions League. By the end of the season, Konaté has the full trust of manager Jürgen Klopp, and was handed a start on the largest stage of them all, the Champions League final.
As the players dispersed for international duty or to start their summer holidays, Konaté was initially passed over in the France national team roster for UEFA Nations League competition. Raphael Varane, however, sustained an injury, and big Ibou got the call to join the French team.
“I was on a boat with some friends in Greece. We were having fun and laughing. I saw two missed calls and I decided to call back because I didn’t know the number. I heard the news and for 5 minutes I was lost while my friends were dancing around me. When it came out in the media it was a great source of pride for me and my family. I was very happy. I was welcomed into the squad really well. There are lots of players I know already from my time in Paris or at Sochaux in the youth teams.”
Konaté didn’t just get called up for depth, and was given his first senior cap for France in a start against Austria. Ibou started the move that led to France’s only goal of the game, intercepting a pass and feeding it to Kylian Mbappé, who played a one-two with Christopher Nkunku before smashing the ball home.
While the match ended in a 1-1 draw, it was another big step in a season of tremendous growth for Ibou. After the match, Konaté was disappointed not to get the win and a clean sheet, but was still glad for the opportunity and happy with his performance.
“I am very happy to have been able to take my first steps. There is frustration from this draw. You have to take reasonable risks, I am proud to have taken them. I am satisfied with my performance but we would have liked to do a clean sheet.”