Seydou Keita is not one of the first names one associates to Barcelona’s era of success under Pep Guardiola, but in many ways he’s as representative of that period as it comes. The Malian came at the same time as Pep Guardiola and left at the same time as Pep, and he didn’t leave much of an impression on the average football fan during these four years. But Pep Guardiola and the Barcelona fans know very well just how crucial Keita was during these four years.
In fact, one of the greatest testaments to Keita is that, although he was mostly perceived as a peripheral figure during these four years, Barcelona fans have mourned his departure much in the same way they did some far more notable players in the past; he left a mark at the club and will long be remembered despite spending all these years in the shadows of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and co.
Keita wasn’t as flashy and technically gifted as the rest of the Barcelona midfielders, which led some to question why Pep Guardiola kept insisting on playing him, but he was the model professional in many ways. On the pitch, he did his work and mostly kept it simple in the middle of the park; he accepted his role in the squad and gave it his all whenever called upon.
He was humble, hardworking and never failed to deliver; he was basically the epitome of what Barcelona and Pep Guardiola were all about. Many kept wondering why Guardiola preferred Keita over other seemingly more talented players and kept giving the Malian ample play time, but Keita was Pep’s favorite for a reason.
Guardiola once said that every time he took an important decision he’d look at Keita and that his face would tell him whether it was the right decision. He constantly praised Keita as a great human being and promised that he’d never leave as long as he was the manager. And so it happened; with Pep Guardiola’s tenure over, so is Keita’s time at the club.
The Malian decided to leave the club in search for more minutes and a different role elsewhere in the twilight years of his career. It happened all of a sudden and it hit those who had underrated Keita’s importance for far too long. He had become a feature, the squad and the club will not be the same without him. His human qualities were as much of an asset to the squad as his contributions on the pitch.
But while the man leave,s the memories remain; be it constantly being the first man to get subbed in, his memorable performance at the Bernabeu in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals, his league-winning goal against Levante or simply his overall attitude and work ethic, Barcelona fans will never forget Keita.
He gave his all for the club during these four years and never failed to deliver what was expected of him on and off the pitch. It is a huge loss from a human perspective, but also from a sporting perspective: Barcelona have no shortage of midfielders more technically gifted than Keita, but they do now lack that humble, hardworking guy who is content to sit on the bench and give his all regardless of how many minutes he plays and in which position he gets to play.
Every successful teams needs someone like that to complement the world-class players in the roster. For Barcelona, that guy was Keita but now he is gone; he was a defensive midfielder, a center midfielder, an attacking midfielder and even a full back. He was everything the team needed at any given time and always put in a quality shift no matter what was asked of him. His attitude was the perfect example for every La Masia trainee hoping to make it big in the first team.
Keita’s departure is undoubtedly one of the biggest losses for Barcelona in recent years, in more ways than one. In 50 years when people are looking at the great Barcelona of Pep Guardiola, all the focus will be centered on Messi, Iniesta and co. and Keita will be a footnote at best. But he was a part of it too, playing his role in the making of one of the great ever teams to perfection; his teammates know it, Pep Guardiola knows it and everyone who has been following the club closely knows it.
The reaction from the club’s fans to Keita’s departure really sum it all up. Rarely does the departure of a ‘squad player’ provoke such strong feelings, but Keita isn’t just any squad player. He has been one of the unsung heroes of this glorious era at the club and he has earned his place in Barcelona history with the quality and unparalleled commitment and dedication he showed during four years. Things will not be the same without Seydou Keita.