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Footballer Naby Keita's story From dodging cars on the streets of Guinea to the fast lane of Eur

The makeshift ball is magnetised to his bare feet as he turns away from two markers, darting towards stones that serve as the goal. The handed-down kit which drowns his tout petitframe gets tugged from behind, but he shrugs that off and speeds on.

Then comes the real challenge. The kid, who has yet to hit double figures in age, feels a heavy hit to his back and first ensures possession is still secure, before getting a shot off. A young Naby Keita has scored, and as he celebrates, he quickly scans the car that impeded him in the build-up.

“This was a normal kind of game,” the midfielder exclusively tells Goal as he retraces his football-centric childhood in Koleya, an area of Guinea capital’s Conakry.

“We would play anywhere there was open space, which was often on the street and we would have to dodge the cars!

“I was bumped so many times, but I kept going because I never wanted to lose possession. Nothing could separate me from the ball and I learnt so much from my experiences on the street.

“We played with whatever we could and I would have nothing on my feet, or sometimes, play with old, damaged shoes,” Keita continued after breaking into the 2017 Goal 50, which ranks the 50 best players in the world of the past year and will be revealed in full on Tuesday November 14.

“I didn’t have boots and treasured football shirts that were given to me. All that has helped me be better prepared for anything now as a professional and I’m also not scared of anything on the pitch.

“I was quite small and so I had to fight for everything: the chance to play, for the ball, to get respect and that’s why not even cars could stop me. It’s where the aggression in my game, which is so important for my position, comes from.”

Conakry’s own le roi de la rue (King of the Street) is now the most expensive African footballer in history.

Liverpool activated a £48 million clause in the RB Leipzig lynchpin’s contract this summer as well as paying a premium to secure his services from July 1, 2018. The move has been mapped out since the idea of turning professional was crystallised in his mind as a teenager, but his ascension to the top of the game began as a toddler.

As soon as Keita could walk his mother, Miriam Camara, would have to confiscate items from his feet. “She has told me that anything that would fall from the table, whether it was a bottle of water or an orange, I would dribble with it,” he says, his words punctuated with laughter.

“Whatever was on the floor that I could kick, I would entertain myself with it. No matter where she would take me, I would do this.”

Despite both feeling it was inevitable their son would want to pursue a career in football, the 22-year-old’s parents tried to direct him towards a different path. “They wanted me to study,” Keita recalls.

“They felt education was the most important and more stable, but there was nothing else for me but football.

“They tried and tried, but they could see where my head and my heart was. Everyone in the community would say to them that I’m the best player in Conakry and, eventually, my parents told me they know I’ve got a special gift so they will fully support my dream.”

“Salzburg improved me as a player and I learnt so much there, I got a really tactical education. Sadio was important for me, he still is! To me, he’s my big brother. He really likes to learn new things, to improve and to push himself and we are the same in this way. He’s a good example for me.”

So much has altered in Keita’s life so quickly, but there are always the constants. “My mother is here, she comes every three months to visit and stays with me for a while,” he says.

“Now she doesn’t have to shout at me for kicking everything around, but she is still my rock. I am nothing without my family, and no matter what happens, I will never forget where I am from.”

From being the one to watch in the Bundesliga last season, Keita is now seemingly the one to target.

Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuttl has no concern over the three red cards the No.8 received within a 39-day period recently, stating his player is “often provoked.” That he is now targeted signifies Keita’s swelling status and how significant the opposition believe him to be.

His influence is unlikely to be tempered anytime soon. “I want to win. I plan to only get better and stronger.

This is just the start for me,” Keita says with a knowing smile. “I’ve come this far, so what is the point of not targeting the very top?”

Culled from

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