Reds finally land top target - but he won't feature for the club until next season
Liverpool’s summer-long pursuit of the Guinea international is over after they secured a club record deal with RB Leipzig.
Keita, who underwent a medical in Wilmslow on Monday morning, has agreed a five-year deal with the Reds which will come into effect on July 1 2018.
Liverpool will pay a premium in excess of the £48million release clause in Keita’s contract which can be triggered next summer. Mohamed Salah's stint as the most expensive signing in the club’s history proved shortlived.
Joy at landing a genuinely top-class talent - a real statement of intent from owners Fenway Sports Group - will be tempered somewhat by the fact that Liverpool won’t have the dynamic midfielder on board until next season.
But in truth it’s the best outcome the Reds could have hoped for after being repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to land Keita during the current window.
Leipzig simply weren’t prepared to lose him this summer - despite the chance to make a huge profit on a player who cost just £15million from Red Bull Salzburg a year ago.
Bids of £57million and £66million from the Reds were rejected with the Bundesliga outfit adamant he wasn’t for sale at any price.
Having qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history, sporting director Ralf Rangnick had vowed to keep their team intact for another 12 months.
Keita informed Leipzig of his desire to move to Anfield, but they feared that if they allowed him to go then fellow star men like Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner, who had attracted interest from other top clubs, would demand to be treated the same.
Klopp knew before the Premier League campaign kicked off that his top target would remain out of reach this term. But such was the manager's burning desire to get Keita on board that sporting director Michael Edwards was tasked with thrashing out an agreement for 2018.
Leipzig tried to get Keita to commit to a new contract which would have removed the £48million clause which comes into effect next summer. But the player made it crystal clear to Rangnick that he wasn’t prepared to do that.
As a result Leipzig agreed to negotiate and it’s a deal which makes sense for all parties. Leipzig will pocket more than his release clause with reports in Germany suggesting the premium Liverpool have agreed takes the fee up to around £60million.
The Reds have also taken away the danger of being gazumped. The fear was that if Keita enjoyed another stellar season in Germany like 2016/17 he would have had every top club in Europe after him next summer.
The big attraction for Keita is the chance to work with Klopp. A glowing recommendation from Sadio Mane - the pair share the same agent - whetted his appetite about life at Anfield.
Growing up in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, Keita was nicknamed ‘Deco’ after the legendary Portuguese midfielder and he’s become an icon in the West African country.
In 2013 he was snapped up by French outfit FC Istres after being previously turned down by FC Lorient and Le Mans. He got his big break after being spotted playing in a youth tournament organised by former Celtic defender Bobo Balde. A year later he headed to Austria after signing for Salzburg and his career took off.
Klopp believes Keita is the complete midfielder and the perfect fit for his blueprint. The 22-year-old has been likened to N’Golo Kante but he’s much more than a midfield destroyer.
The Liverpool boss sees him playing in an advanced central role where his dynamism and creative spark can flourish. He scored eight goals and contributed eight assists in 31 Bundesliga outings last season.
Klop legend Didi Hamann, who has watched him closely in his role as a German TV pundit, told the ECHO: “Leipzig were the closest challengers to Bayern Munich and he had a huge impact.
“Kante is a holding midfielder who doesn’t really create or score. But Keita can really play. He can play two positions - deeper or more advanced.
“He isn’t shy about putting a shift in. He’s strong in the tackle and he’s got good feet. Going forward, he’s clever with his runs. He’s pretty sharp and uses his body well with a low centre of gravity.
“It’s rare that you get a midfielder these days with those kind of all-round talents. People talk about box to box midfielders but it gets harder and harder because the game is too quick now. Few midfielders can affect a game at both ends but he’s one of them.”
News of the Keita deal fuels the feelgood factor in the wake of Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of Arsenal.
Now the focus turns to securing more immediate reinforcements. The Reds are hoping to land Monaco attacking midfielder Thomas Lemar prior to Thursday’s deadline.
Liverpool are prepared to increase their offer for the France international to around £70million. If the Ligue One champions are willing to negotiate then the Reds could use Divock Origi as a makeweight.
The Reds remain keen to sign defender Virgil van Dijk but Southampton remain adamant that the Dutch centre-back will be staying put.