Just 90 seconds into the 90 minutes at the Schwarzwald-Stadion in Freiburg, Naby Keita feigned left, rolled it right, toiled with his defender before unleashing a thunderbolt into the top corner.
The Guinean midfielder celebrated with Ralph Hassenhütl on the touchline, a truly tremendous goal – a goal synonymous with the dynamic all action reputation he had spent years developing.
That moment in time, 2016 to be precise, was a year before Liverpool would agree an eventual £48m fee with RB Leipzig, and two years before Keita would wear Liverpool red.
In that time, he was regarded as “one of the best players I’ve ever worked with” by Leipzig director Ralf Rangnick.
There was tremendous hype around the transfer to Liverpool. Such hype and expectations were further exacerbated by the fact Liverpool had to wait a year after the agreement was struck to see him play for the Reds.
At the time, Keita was seen to offer something different to Liverpool’s midfield. A midfield often dubbed as industrious, he offered flair, an ability to beat a man, travel with the ball, and crucially an eye for a goal – a saviour of sorts.
Since then, he has become an enigmatic, mysteriously absent and tantalisingly talented presence in this Liverpool squad.
“Naby Lad!”, is the friendly phrase used by his teammates to describe him. Such camaraderie gives off the perception of a player settled, home and happy.
But settled would be anything but the word used to describe Keita’s Liverpool career.
Once described as the second best midfield player in the Bundesliga, behind at the time Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara by current manager Jurgen Klopp, Keita has struggled to live up to that reputation.
A marriage of moments and injuries
What is more frustrating, is the flashes. Bad transfers happen in football, and for a number of usually valid mitigating circumstances, for one reason or another, things don’t work out.
You almost feel this would be an easier outcome for the fans to digest and accept. A potentially less frustrating one at least.
To write a player off as a bust and therefore ultimately be briefly angry in time that your club has ‘wasted’ its money is a feeling well known, in one way or another by most football fans.
But it hasn’t been a waste, not yet at least.
December 2019, Keita receives a divine back-heel from Mo Salah and fires an outside of the foot shot into the bottom right corner to ignite a drubbing of Bournemouth on the south coast.
Days later, in a crucial away match in Europe against his former club RB Salzburg, Keita would nod home and cement Liverpool’s Champions League progression.
Days later again, he would be the furthest man forward on the end of a Mo Salah through ball to smash home against Monterray in the Fifa Club World Cup.
All of this happened within a matter of days, around eleven to be exact.
Eleven days to encapsulate what Naby Keita can, or should be for this Liverpool team.
But as mentioned before, mitigating circumstances often surround the form, or longer term success of nearly every player in football.
Keita’s has been injuries. He has been plagued by a myriad of muscular problems which has meant he has never really established a run of games.
Since he signed on the dotted line, Keita has missed 275 days of football to injury. He has missed 54 games that were to be played in that time, nearly a season and a half via transfrmarket.co.uk
Liverpool recently took the time to extend the period of time it would take for Keita to return from his latest muscular injury in the hope it will enable him to play successive games.
The big picture
There is no doubt the talent is there. Albeit in moments, he has proven it with big goals in big games. He offers a beautiful triangular link between Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold on that right hand side that enables a certain fluidity and dynamism to exist.
Yet the perception among fans is still of the forever injured, an enigmatic midfield diamond, whom on his day is capable of being a match-winner but isn’t able to do it enough.
In terms of the wider landscape, Keita can’t keep suffering reoccurring injuries forever. Liverpool can’t afford to suffer the same domestic season as this one next time around.
With Georginio Wijnaldum likely to leave in the summer, and rumours of Liverpool looking to bolster in central defence, midfielder and forward, the pressure is on for ‘Naby Lad’ to rebuild his reputation and help fire Liverpool back to continued successes.