Greg Lea profiles the exciting Rome-based winger attracting the big boys' attentions...
The 60-second story
Keita Balde Diao was born in the small village of Arbucies in Catalonia to Senegalese parents in March 1995. He joined local team Barcelona as a nine-year-old in 2004, progressing through the youth ranks at the club’s fabled La Masia academy until a seemingly innocuous incident six years later spelled the beginning of the end for the winger in Catalonia.
During a tournament in Qatar, Keita played a prank on a team-mate by placing an ice cube in his bed. Barcelona’s youth coaches didn't see the funny side, though, sending the 15-year-old on loan to satellite side Cornella in the fourth tier as punishment.
Keita soon proved he was far too good for such a level, scoring an incredible 47 goals for the club’s youth team. Deemed to have served his sentence, he was recalled by Barcelona at the end of the season but shocked staff by rejecting a return in favour of a €300,000 switch to Lazio.
- Date of birth: March 8, 1995
- Place of birth: Arbucies, Spain
- Height: 5ft 11in
- Position: Forward
- Current club: Lazio (64 apps, 10 goals)
- Former clubs: Barcelona (youth)
- International: N/A
Unable to play official matches for the Blucerchiati for over a year due to a citizenship issue, Keita nevertheless put himself firmly on the path to the first team with some impressive showings in the academy. His senior debut eventually came as a substitute in the 3-0 win over Chievo in September 2013, with his first start following against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League a few days later. He continued to perform well for the remainder of the 2013/14 campaign, even as the Rome-based outfit slumped to a disappointing ninth-place finish.
Last season was more of a struggle for Keita, who was restricted to just six league starts as fellow winger Felipe Anderson took his place in the team and the league by storm. Still only 20, Keita has plenty of time to re-establish himself as a first-team regular – either at Lazio or elsewhere.
Why you need to know him
Keita is one of Serie A’s most exciting young players, but he might not be for much longer: Liverpool are thought to be on the verge of launching a bid for the youngster, with Brendan Rodgers keen to strengthen his side’s forward line further after the additions of Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings.
Keita is a quick and tricky dribbler, able to beat his full-back with both pace and guile. A right-footer usually fielded on the left, he is dangerous when cutting infield onto his stronger side but is also happy to take on his opponent down the outside.
His scoring record is pretty good for a young winger – the type of player who is often erratic in front of goal. Keita netted five times in 14 Serie A starts in his debut campaign of 2013/14, before adding another four in 10 domestic starts last term. A conversion from wideman to striker remains on the cards.
Keita soon proved he was far too good for such a level, scoring an incredible 47 goals for the club’s youth team
Keita’s primary shortcoming is his work off the ball; only the world’s very best players can be given total freedom in the defensive phase of play, and the Spaniard must improve the protection he provides his full-back.
Another potential area of improvement is his decision-making in the final third. Keita is prone to holding onto the ball for too long, something that can be damaging when his side are looking to counter-attack quickly and exploit gaps in the opposition’s setup. Mastering when best to dribble and when best to pass is something that would improve Keita’s overall quality immeasurably.
Former Lazio boss Vladimir Petkovic gave Keita his professional debut in the aforementioned defeat of Chievo in 2013, and was immediately impressed by the youngster's potential. After the Spaniard netted his first-ever goal in a 1-1 draw with Parma later that year, Petkovic was full of praise.
"He’s a diamond that needs polishing, a talent out of the ordinary and a good kid," the Bosnian said. "He needs to keep his feet on the ground, but the future is in his hands."
Did you know?
Liverpool have a manager who relishes attacking players like Keita. It is a destination we would like, but we have to verify a series of situations
- Shooting 8
- Heading 6
- Passing 7
- Tackling 4
- Pace 9
- Dribbling 8
- Creativity 8
- Work Rate 4
Keita was fortunate to avoid serious injury when he crashed his yellow Lamborghini Gallardo into a bridge during a late-night spin in October last year.
Keita lost control of the vehicle while driving in central Rome just a few hours after Lazio’s 2-0 victory away to Fiorentina, inadvertently slamming it into Ponte Flaminio and causing the closure of the road to traffic for almost three hours.
The 20-year-old escaped unharmed, but the car – which cost a cool £158,000 – was written off at the scene.
What happens next?
Lazio don't want to lose Keita, but that hasn't prevented other clubs from developing an interest in him. After a year of sitting on the bench, moreover, it may be best for the player to seek a move, a point that was made by his agent Ulisse Savini last week.
"For years there have been several offers coming in, but considering the situation I have to say this summer they are particularly interesting," Savini said in an interview with Radio Sei.
"I personally spoke to Lazio and they said his sale is not predicted. It’s only natural that he isn’t satisfied with the situation, so we are evaluating other options.
"Liverpool have a manager who relishes attacking players like Keita. It's a destination we would like, but we have to verify a series of situations. So far I have not had any direct contact with Liverpool.
"Inter? I have an excellent rapport with them and know they are seeking wide attackers," he added. "[They] really like Keita, but I think right now they are aiming for other objectives. In life you never know, as you might not get the first target and go for a second. I wouldn't rule them out."
With Lazio eyeing Liverpool striker Fabio Borini, the Reds look best-placed to seal a deal at this stage.