Friday Apr 17, 2020. 09:00
With top-level football ground to a halt thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, we look back at a legend of yesteryear. This week’s spotlight falls on Mali’s Seydou Keita
What his origin story?
Born on 16 January 1980 in Bamako, Mali, Seydou Keita is the nephew of fellow legend Salif Keita and came through the ranks of his uncle’s club, JS Centre Salif Keita, before first moving to Europe in 1997 to join French Olympique Marseille at age 17.
Keita spent three years at the Stade Velodrome and made just a handful of appearances for OM, though he did get his first taste of UEFA Champions League action. From 2000 to 2002 the versatile midfielder continued to learn his trade with Lorient before moving to Lens, where he spend five years with the Sang et Or and truly established himself as a player to watch: he became club captain and later scored a career-best haul of 11 goals in the 2006-07 season.
This inevitably saw him move up in the world, with La Liga club Sevilla paying €4 million for the Malian’s services in 2007. Keita spent just once season with the Andalusian club before Barcelona, then managed by Pep Guardiola, stumped up €14million to buy him out of his contract. It was to be the start of a golden period for the Malian: from 2008 to 2012 he made over 180 appearances across all competitions for Barca and won numerous honours, including three successive La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey titles and the UEFA Champions League in 2008-09 and 2010-11. Though not always a regular starter for the Blaugrana, Keita’s ability to fill various midfield positions and his team ethic made him a favourite among coaches, players and fans alike.
In 2012, aged 32, Keita cashed in on a lucrative offer from China and joined Dalian Aerbin, who paid him a reported €14 million per year. The midfielder signed for four years with the Chinese Super League team, but just 18 months later he returned to La Liga, agreeing a short-term contract for Valencia in January 2014.
The end of the 2013-14 season saw Keita a free agent and he agreed a move to Italian giants Roma, where he was a key man for two seasons and made 59 appearances across all competitions. The Malian then wound down his career with a campaign on the books of El-Jaish in the Qatar Stars League, retiring at age 37 in mid-2017.
Keita was a cornerstone of the Malian national team for 17 years, making his debut as a teenager in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Ivory Coast in 1998 and playing right through to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
He holds the records for both the most caps (102) and goals (25) for the Eagles, and represented his country at seven different AFCONs, spanning 2002 to 2015. only Rigobert Song (Cameroon), Ahmed Hassan (Egypt) and Asamoah Gyan (Ghana) have appeared in more continental tournaments.
Keita also won the Golden Ball for best player at the 1999 FIFA Youth World Championships, where he helped Mali end in third place.
“I get goosebumps when speaking of Mali. There is nothing that compares to the joy of giving to a country that is suffering.”
What’s he doing now?
Mostly goodwill, ambassadorial and charity work. Keita notably donated food worth $50 000 to help out vulnerable families in his native Mali earlier this week. His generosity is expected to cater for about 600 families in the capital city Bamako and includes 557 bags of rice, 611 bags of millet, 300 bags of sugar and more than 100 gallons of oil.
Anything else to add?
Keita holds the club record at Valencia for the fastest goal, scoring after just nine seconds in a 2-2 draw with Almeria in March 2014.
Check out these compilation of Keita’s goals for Barcelona, as well as his skills while on the books of Roma.