Less than a week after Naby Keïta’s agent or some other individual with ties to the player took the player’s contract negotiations public, going to the German press to suggest the midfielder was dragging his feet on renewing due to being unhappy about his role at the club, Liverpool took on Manchester United.
With injuries elsewhere, it was Keïta’s chance to impress. To put an exclamation mark on those leaks and show he deserves to be a nailed-on starter in midfield in the big games. Instead, he was ruled out by injury. The timing made it hard for some not to wonder if it was actually a player being held out for other reasons.
Instead, it appears to be exactly what it looked like on the surface: a player who has spent seemingly half his Liverpool career out injured due to one malady or another missing yet another game due to injury. On this occasion, it is a muscle strain or tear, the extent of which will be determined by scans today.
Since Liverpool paid £52.75M to sign him on a delayed deal in 2018, Keïta has been ruled out for 62 games and 323 days due to 16 different injuries according to Transfermarkt, meaning that of his four completed Liverpool seasons he has been ruled out entirely for an entire year of football since joining the club.
Add in the time it takes to return to full fitness on each occasion, and it’s not unreasonable to suggest Liverpool have only had access to a fit and in form Keïta for roughly half of the time he has been at Anfield—and all the talent in the world only goes so far if you can only be counted on around 50% of the time.
Even last season, which many pointed to as Keïta’s most influential, he played just over 2000 minutes—the 12th most amongst outfield players and 59% of the minutes recorded by the ninth most utilized player, Diogo Jota. That is the reality of Naby Keïta: an above average player with below average availability.
And it was into this reality Keïta’s people leaked that their player was unhappy not to be one of the first names on Jürgen Klopp’s teamsheet. Certainly, then, Monday and his latest absence due to injury serves as an exclamation mark. Just not the exclamation mark that he or his people would have hoped for.