Naby Keita, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah & Jurgen Klopp’s faith in an undervalued market

14 November 2017

The signings of Naby Keita, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah highlight Jurgen Klopp‘s faith in the undervalued African market, writes James Noble.

The two current Liverpool men and future Reds player made up three of a five-strong shortlist for the BBC’s increasingly prestigious African Player of the Year award for 2017.

And Klopp represents an interesting link between four of the nominees, too.

Chelsea and Nigeria’s Victor Moses and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund and Gabon complete the group, chosen by a panel comprising Africa-based journalists and coaches, as well as BBC staff.

None of the nominees have won the award previously. That is especially surprising in Aubameyang’s case, considering this is his fifth consecutive nomination, with Moses being selected for a second time.

While both Salah and Keita are nominated for the first time in their careers, Mane will be hoping it is third-time lucky, having been amongst the contenders in both 2015 and 2016.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 25, 2014: Manchester City's Yaya Toure in action against Liverpool during the Premier League match at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by Chris Brunskill/Propaganda)

Yaya Toure and Riyad Mahrez were winners of the respective awards on those occasions, representing two of the esteemed company this year’s winner will keep.

Abedi Pele (1992), George Weah (1995), Nwankwo Kanu (1997 & 1999), Jay-Jay Okocha (2003 & 2004), Michael Essien (2006), Emmanuel Adebayor (2007) and Didier Drogba (2009) are just some of the highest-profile players to have won the award in the past.

Those names alone represent the high regard that the displays of the nominees must have been held in.

And it should act as a further reminder to Reds fans of the level of talent within what could be quite a triumvirate come 2018/19.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal during the premier league match at the London Stadium, London. Picture date 4th November 2017. Picture credit should read: David Klein/Sportimage via PA Images

Mane (Senegal) and Salah (Egypt) were widely expected to make the shortlist, having both been central in earning their respective nations a place at next summer’s World Cup, as well as consistently impressing at club level.

While Keita and Guinea won’t be gracing the tournament in Russia in seven months, the 22-year-old is hardly a surprise nominee, having established himself as the heartbeat of one of the fastest rising clubs in Europe, in the form of RB Leipzig.

The side finished a superb debut campaign in the Bundesliga as runners-up in 2016/17, ahead of Aubameyang’s Dortmund, as Keita notched eight goals and eight assists on the way to being voted the division’s best midfielder.

Second position, again between leaders Bayern and third-placed Dortmund, is one they currently hold this season too, with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side also harbouring hopes of progression to the knockout stages in their first-ever Champions League campaign.

Liverpool’s persistence in eventually securing an agreement to bring the all-action midfielder to Anfield in July for a fee set to be comfortably over £50 million—a record for an African player—represented just how exciting a talent he is seen to be.

WIGAN, ENGLAND - Friday, July 14, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah during a preseason friendly match against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Indeed, an interesting theme within the list is that four of the five—Moses being the exception—have, at some stage, been signed by Klopp.

That certainly suggests that the German and his staff know how to utilise African talent. Whether it goes any deeper in terms of contacts and scouting networks isn’t really clear.

The fact, though, in the case of Keita, that he and Mane share the same agent and, as shown by their recent comments, a good friendship, appeared a significant contributing factor in the Guinean’s move, for instance.

Joel Matip, of course, is another current example as an ex-Cameroon international.

Kevin-Prince Boateng of Ghana and Mohamed Zidan of Egypt, meanwhile, were also signed by the German manager early in his Dortmund tenure (the latter previously being brought in by Klopp at Mainz too).

They may not have been two of his more successful buys, but they do add to this particular recruitment pattern.

Leipzig's Naby Keita thanks the fans after the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Werder Bremen at the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, Germany, 23 October 2016. PHOTO: Jan Woitas/dpa

It may well be coincidental; there is a swiftly growing talent pool when it comes to African players after all, and all of these Klopp signings were playing for European clubs already, in any case.

However, the volume of individuals from that continent brought in by the German, especially since switching to Anfield, does suggest that he and his backroom staff could be utilising a group of players whose potential, at times, is still arguably under-appreciated by some at the highest level of the club game.

That faith, from Liverpool’s perspective, will hopefully continue to pay off.

* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield. If you’d like to contribute a piece for consideration please see this page. Follow James on Twitter, @james_noble98.

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