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RB Leipzig Chief Digs Keïta Hole Deeper with “African Players” Explanation

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Ralf Rangnick had a chance to explain away his verbal misstep. Instead he made it worse.

Kaiser Cup 2009 Photo by Florian Seefried/Getty Images

Yesterday, while at a coaching conference, RB Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick managed to insult Naby Keïta and the nation of Guinea with an offhand comment, dismissively referring to capital city Conakry as a “village” and implying the 22-year-old star was easily manipulable.

Coming from a man born of a former colonial power and aimed as it was at a former colony country, at best it seemed condescending, the kind of comment only likely to push an already unsettled player further away. At worst, there was an overtly offensively racist component.

After all, he hadn’t suggested Leipzig’s other want-away star, Emil Forsberg—from a small city of 50k people—was being manipulated by a village in Sweden. Keïta, though, from a city three times the size of Leipzig, was being manipulated by his “village” into pushing for a transfer.

Today, Rangnick had the chance to explain his statement. To perhaps blame it on frustration and a poor choice of words, something said without thought or any real malice. Instead, he’s made things worse, doubling down on stereotypes about Africa and African footballers.

“Many players with an African background, and I’ve met a lot of them, there is a clan and sometimes a whole village that feeds with the help of the player,” he explained, digging his hole even deeper. “There are people who will demand that he has to [make more]. This is so.”

He went on to insist his knowledge of geography is good enough to distinguish between the nation of Guinea and Africa as a continent, which further undercuts any attempt at giving his words a kind reading—he says he knows Keïta comes from a city three times the size of Leipzig.

Yesterday, even the kindest reading of his words was that he could not have come up with a better way to further alienate an already unsettled player if he had set out to do that. Today, he’s stepped up to deny that kindest reading and explain that his words were in fact explicitly racist.

And so the long-running and increasingly bizarre Naby Keïta transfer saga continues to rumble on, a little stranger even than it was just 24 hours ago.