It was a move that signalled the end of a Liverpool transfer saga, even if the outcome was not the perfect one at the time.
Three years ago today, the Reds ended their summer pursuit of RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita by striking one of the most unusual deals in recent Anfield memory.
After seeing what would have been club-record bids of £57m and £66m turned down the Bundesliga side, Liverpool opted to temporarily walk away in the July of 2017.
The Reds believed they could wait a year to trigger a significantly lower clause of £48m in the dynamic midfielder’s contract with the German side.
“We will definitely not be letting any key players go,” RB Leipzig sporting director, Ralf Rangnick, said at the time. “There’s nothing that will make us budge.”
Rangnick’s stance, uttered in the first week of July, was true up to a point.
Liverpool would return for Keita close to eight weeks later, striking a deal that would see the all-action Guinea international join the following summer instead.
On August 28, 2017, it was confirmed that Liverpool would be making Keita their player in the following July after finally thrashing out terms with Leipzig.
A medical was undertaken in Wilmslow as Keita finally got his wish of joining Jurgen Klopp’s ambitious Anfield restoration project.
“I am delighted that an agreement has been reached which will allow me to join Liverpool Football Club next summer,” Keita said.
“When I will become part of a project that excites me greatly.”
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A protracted deal meant the fee revolved around Leipzig’s success for the 2017/18 campaign, with sums that varied between £48m and £59m.
Both figures would have made Keita the most expensive player in Liverpool’s history, had he actually joined on that sleep Bank Holiday Monday three years ago.
A sixth-placed finish, which would secure a Europa League spot for Leipzig, meant that the Reds would eventually be shelling out £52.75m in 2018.
But by the time he arrived at Anfield, the fee Liverpool paid for Keita placed him behind Virgil van Dijk before Alisson Becker’s £65m signature dropped the African to third later that month.
Keita still sits in that spot in the list of Liverpool’s most expensive signings of all time, but unlike the landscape-altering arrivals of Alisson and Van Dijk, the former Leipzig star is still searching for his place in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team.
Since officially becoming Liverpool’s No.8, it’s largely been a case of one step forward and two back for a player whose injury troubles have consistently conspired to take the wind out of the sails.
Crucially, though, Keita has looked more durable since the return of the Premier League in June.
Starting five of the last nine matches, Keita started to turn in the kind of performances that have been all too fleeting prior to the restart.
Offering an almost unique ability in the Reds’ engine room to cut swathes in opposition defences through his dribbling and passing range, Keita was notably on song against the likes of Brighton and Chelsea.
It was his expert assist to Sadio Mane that broke the deadlock of an otherwise drab affair at home to Aston Villa, also.
Named as a sub in all three fixtures that saw Liverpool drop points after the resumption of football, Keita’s most eye-catching contribution came in the final home game of the season against Chelsea.
In a match that would always be viewed as second fiddle to the title-lifting party that would follow, Keita crashed home the opener with a wonderful run and shot that smacked the crossbar on its way into the net.
It was Keita in a nutshell; a perfect snapshot of why Liverpool were so determined to land him three years ago.
What are your hopes for Naby Keita next season? Let us know in the comment section here
The hope is now, after remaining injury free throughout the pre-season schedule, he can go on and build on those post-lockdown displays.
One of the most purely gifted midfielders in the Premier League, Liverpool have a rare gem in their ranks in Keita.
Three years on from agreeing to move to Anfield, his time may just finally be here.
*Take our LFC transfer survey and let us know what you think the Reds need this summer HERE
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