Keita key to Mali hopes

Seydou Keita is 32 now and plies his trade in the less strenuous waters of China, but he remains the talisman of a Mali side and has unfinished business with the Africa Cup of Nations.

For the Dalian Aerbi midfielder playing in China is simply another opportunity in his job.

“Football is a profession. Yes, it pays well and I hope to make some money in China. But that’s not the only reason for my going there. I want to be in fine form for I hate to be out of form.”

With that ambition in mind Keita, who left Barcelona in July, has been training at the Camp Nou with his old team-mates. The Chinese season had ended with an injury, but he is well over that now.

Mali have never won the Africa Cup of Nations, When they’ve come close in the recent past a Keita has invariably been a part of it. His uncle Salif Keita was the spearhead of the team that were runners-up in 1972.

Thirty years later Mali hosted the tournament and before packed home crowds came fourth. That 2002 tournament was the first proper tilt of a golden generation that had come third in the 1999 FIFA World Youth Cup where Keita had won the golden ball as the tournament’s most valuable player.

Seydoublen, as he is known, was back two years later. In Tunisia the result was the same. It fourth place again as the semi-final hoodoo struck again. This time the thumping came from Morocco 4-0 and in a groundhog day Nigeria again beat Les Aigles to third place.

Perhaps that explains the delight in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in 2012. Finally they claimed a bronze medal when beating a deflated Ghana.

Keita had actually retired from international football after a disappointing 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, but when the qualification for 2012 was in trouble Keita was persuaded out of retirement. Once at the finals Mali owed their qualification from the group to Keita who scored the two goals that secured a vital three points in the final game Botswana.

Keita was the first signing of the Guardiola era at Barcelona whom he joined from Seville. He went on to play a total of 188 official matches with Barcelona between 2008 and 2012. By the time he left he had a total of 16 club trophies including two Champions League wins making him one of Africa’s most decorated players.

He knows how to win trophies so believe him when he says: “I am still ambitious. There is the Afcon 2013 and the World Cup 2014.”

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