Naby Keita was first mentioned as a potential summer target for Liverpool in February. At that point, many anticipated that any deal would largely depend on whether or not Liverpool qualified for the Champions League. They managed to achieve that, but even so, there were always going to be numerous hurdles for the Reds’ to pass if they wanted to get their man.
You would expect that there would be a number of teams putting offers on the table for a player of this quality. However, such is Klopp’s admiration for a midfielder that was named the second best player in the Bundesliga last season, it seems Liverpool have put in all the necessary groundwork to convince the player and his representatives that, if he does leave RB Leipzig, Liverpool is the next best step for him. What helps is that Keita shares the same agent as Sadio Mané and both players are close friends. So it quickly became apparent that if the Guinean was to switch clubs this summer, it would be Liverpool or nowhere.
When Keita was first linked to Liverpool in February, it was thought that a fee around £35m-£40m might be Leipzig’s potential asking price. But their star player went on to ‘carry’ them, some would say single-handedly, to a 2nd place finish in their first ever Bundesliga season. Robert Lewandowski was, officially, the only player in the Bundesliga that was better than Keita last season.
That, in turn, upped the mooted fee that it would take for Liverpool to prise the Guinean away from Leipzig. £50m was mentioned in late May but, intriguingly, it was also reported that Liverpool were not worried about paying an asking price that would shatter their transfer record – an indication of just how highly Keita is rated by those at Liverpool.
Soon after that, Ralf Rangnick began his public attempts to play down any chance of a potential transfer for Keita this summer. The Leipzig sporting director has regularly insisted that the club have no reason to sell any of their star players this summer, with their first ever Champions League campaign awaiting them next season.
Deal off? Apparently not.
Around the same time as this, Liverpool claimed to have ended their interest in top centre-back target Virgil Van Dijk, with their public pursuit of the Dutchman much too public for Southampton’s liking. Many Reds fans were then expecting to hear about alternatives for the pair but, to this day, we still haven’t.
Despite Rangnick’s comments, Jürgen Klopp’s side have not ended their interest at all. In fact, they’ve done the exact opposite by intensifying it. Klopp and Rangnick are said to be good friends and perhaps the Reds boss knows the exact game that Rangnick feels he has to play here.
In 2014, Sadio Mané expressed a desire to leave Red Bull Salzburg, with Southampton putting an impressive deal on the table for one of the most exciting up and coming attacking prospects in Europe. For much of the summer, Salzburg insisted that Mané would not be going anywhere. Their sporting director at the time? Ralf Rangnick.
You can’t blame Liverpool for thinking that this could easily follow a similar pattern. They’ve convinced the player that Liverpool is where his future is at, just like they have with Mohamed Salah (who’s in the door already) and Virgil Van Dijk. Convincing players of this calibre that the best place for them to be playing their football is Liverpool is a lot easier said than done. A lot of that will be the lure of playing under Jürgen Klopp and, of course, the prospect of playing for such a historic club in the Champions League.
In that sense, Liverpool have done the hard work. Keita, according to various sources, is desperate for a move to Liverpool. Ed Malyon of the Independent even went as far as saying that the Guinean is motivated by the challenge of trying to become the very best midfield player in the Premier League. In fact, everyone that knows Keita says that this is a player who knows exactly what he wants. He has planned out his ideal career and is determined to put it all into place. A player of such ambition is exactly what Klopp and his assistants want at Liverpool.
So where are we now? Things went quiet whilst the Reds were wrapping up the (current) club-record signing of Mohamed Salah from Roma. But since then it’s clear that Liverpool have been doing all they can to make Keita their next significant addition. Rangnick has continued to claim publicly that no fee could convince them into selling Keita, but interestingly, in mid-June reports in German publication, BILD emerged that suggested that the German side’s ‘pain threshold’ would be a fee of around €80m (£70m). That would be a Bundesliga club record, overtaking the fee that saw Kevin De Bruyne leave Wolfsburg for Manchester City in the summer of 2015 and such a tag would appeal to certain officials at Leipzig.
It has also emerged that Keita has a release clause of around €55m (£48m) that comes into play next summer. This is something else that has strengthened Liverpool’s hand. Can Leipzig afford to take a loss as big as €25m? There’s every chance that their main rivals for the Bundesliga title Bayern Munich would come sniffing this time next year, too. You’d assume that Leipzig would be very unhappy to see him go there.
All of these factors came to a head last Thursday when BILD reported that Liverpool had submitted a €65m bid for Keita which was rejected. On the eye, that looks like a negative development, but the news that came along with it made it a positive one.
Soon after these reports surfaced, news of a ‘softening of Leipzig’s stance’ emerged. Several sources are now reporting that there are numerous individuals at the German club that believe an improved offer from Liverpool will be too good to turn down. Some journalists that specialise in Guinean football have even suggested that it’s only Rangnick who is insisting on holding on to Keita no matter what. It’s even been reported that an official at Leipzig believes Keita’s potential transfer to Liverpool is now ‘a formality.’ There’s been a change.
What’s also worth nothing is the responses that Jürgen Klopp has given when asked about the club’s transfer activity this week. After Liverpool’s friendly with Tranmere on Wednesday Klopp said:
“Nervous fans? Sorry, I cannot help, I don’t have to write a message for this.”
“I’m not nervous – maybe that’s the right message for this.”
When asked about transfer negotiations on Friday evening it was more of the same.
“It’s not important what I say, it’s important what we do and we try to do the job, how you can imagine, and we feel on a good way, that’s all.”
This is a manager that has always said he’s very keen to get players in the door as soon as possible during the summer months so that he can work with them throughout pre-season. Liverpool’s patience is telling. They obviously feel that there is a deal to be done here. Their bid for the player suggests so, too. Infact, some in Guinea have gone as far as saying that their improved offer will come on Monday or Tuesday.
They also add that Keita’s entourage are considering trying to force a move through, in the same way, that they did with Mané in 2014. The player himself is a quiet character and is not one to be storming into boardrooms and banging fists on tables to ensure he gets what he wants. But it’s now crystal clear that the player wants this deal to happen and it could be that his agency starts trying to push it along. The Liverpool Echo’s James Pearce says that the Reds hope £65m will convince Leipzig to sell.
What’s hugely encouraging for Liverpool fans is the fact that the club are obviously willing to pay big this summer. Klopp has done the hard work by convincing Keita to sign and FSG are willing to back their man. If they want to finish in the Champions League again or do even better next year, they have to. Keita would be a monster deal for Liverpool and a huge statement of intent. The fee could double Liverpool’s current transfer record. The 22-year-old is a player that has Jürgen Klopp written all over him. He can defend, he can attack, he gets goals and assists, he can play defensive midfield, box-to-box or as an attacking midfield player. He is the modern day central midfielder and at 22 years of age. This is just the start for Naby Keita.
Will Liverpool get it over the line? This deal is starting to have the same feel about it that the Mohamed Salah one did a week or two before it went through. All going well, this deal could definitely come together for Liverpool. The player wants the move, Liverpool are willing to pay the money and there is a huge determination to get the deal done. The situation is certainly looking a lot more positive for Liverpool than it was around a week ago. Fingers crossed.
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