Africa’s football legends: Salif Keita

By David Giraud

Posted on June 21, 2010 13:00

A technical genius, the former Malian striker could do anything with the ball. He tells us he has remained an unconditional fan of football with flair.

A truck driver’s son who started his career at Real de Bamako, “Domingo” gained his first cap at the age of 17 after only a few ?league matches.?

Born in 1948, his exceptional technique and versatility carried him to the peak of his African ?career in 1966, when became the top scorer – with 14 goals – in the African Club Champions’ Cup. His ability to play in several different positions and to mesmerise opponents with his technique made him highly sought after.?

In 1967 he moved to France, famously making the journey from Paris to Saint-Etienne in the south of the country by taxi. The club ?picked up the tab and it was money well spent: 120 goals in 149 matches, a European Silver Boot and three French championship titles.He was awarded his first African Ballon d’Or in 1970.?

Known in France as the Black Panther, he moved to Marseille in 1972 to become one half of a memorable and explosive double act with the Yugoslav player Josip Skoblar. The same year he played for his country in the African Cup of Nations, but Mali lost against Congo. In 1973, he moved to ?Valencia, then to the Portuguese club Sporting and finally to the United States.

He learnt management in the US and, on returning home, created the Centre Salif Keita (CSK) football academy. His nephew, Seydou Keita, currently with FC Barcelona, is an alumnus. Keita is currently in his last year of a four-year tenure as president of the ?Malian federation.

The game comes first, says Keita in an interview with The Africa Report

In South Africa, I want to see beautifull football. For me, football should be about drama, which the players of my continent know how to deliver so well. I am hoping for lots of goals, one-twos, backheels and fast dribbling. I want to see matches that will stay in the memory for a long time.

For my part, I haven’t forgotten the epic matches that were played during the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. The Brazil-Italy final, of course, but also the Germany-Italy match. Let’s hope that lots of teams manage to play a style of football that pays homage to that 1970 World Cup, or to the Ajax Amsterdam of Johann Cruyff, or to FC Barcelona, the winner of last year’s Champion’s League, which was a real delight. I don’t like teams that don’t know how to keep hold of the ball and build up a move. I will always prefer a defender that dribbles and relaunches his team well, rather than one who wallops it out of the area. There is always the risk of error, but in the long term it pays off.

?Football is firstly about technique?

That’s my footballing philosophy, which I’m trying to put in place with CSK Bamako, whether it is with the young players coming through or with the first team. I love technical ability, the dribble, which I already was fond of as a player. It’s all very well to talk about spirit, or engagement, or aggressive play, but for me football is about technique. You can be as engaged, as physically tough as you like, but if you don’t know how to play football, to stroke the leather, you won’t get there. From Di Stefano to Messi, it is the technicians who win.

In any case, it is important that the African teams do not put too much pressure on themselves to win. Of course, it is the first World Cup to be organised on the continent. It’s wonderful. But the players must not say to themselves that they must necessarily win it. To go far, and eventually win, they will have to express the very best of their technical abilities, not hold back and simply allow themselves to play in their own half. Nearly all the African teams are able to exit their groups. Some, like Côte d’Ivoire, who are a very talented side, are able to go a lot further.

To succeed – and it was a credo for me throughout my career – you need a love of what you are doing, a love of the game. The playing must take priority over the occasion. The players have the ability to make us dream, because the artists of the ball are better protected by the referee than they were in the past.

This article was first published in The Africa Report’s World Cup 2010 special edition in May.

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