At African Soccer Event, Games of Cat and Mouse

At African Soccer Event, Games of Cat and Mouse

Newspaper reports this month in Britain and Germany, where Keita plays for RB Leipzig, said the Reds were so eager to bring forward Keita’s transfer that they were willing to add $20 million to the record $85 million fee the clubs had agreed upon if the midfielder would move to Liverpool in the current January transfer window instead of in the summer.

Keita will make millions from the deal, whenever he joins. That is the dream of every player in Guinea, where a top player makes about $1,200 a month, often playing games on uneven fields in crumbling stadiums that bear little resemblance to the lush turf and glass-and-steel soccer cathedrals across Europe.

So the agents come to this dusty North African destination — and the three other cities hosting games — seeking the next Keita, whether team officials want them there or not.

Ibrahima Sankhon, who at 21 is just a year younger than Keita, frequently shares midfield duties on the senior national team with his more illustrious compatriot. An energetic and skillful box-to-box player, Sankhon goes by the nickname Zidane, after the former French World Cup winning star, and was Guinea’s captain here. He is currently the star performer for Horoya Athlétique Club back home in Conakry. Soccer’s middlemen were keen to seek him out, and he was happy to oblige.

“You know many African players come from very poor families,” said Sankhon, who lives with his mother and sister and, despite his nickname, picks the Ivorian midfielder Yaya Touré as his soccer idol. Sankhon, whose father died when he was younger, is his family’s main breadwinner. So a contract in Europe would benefit those back home, too, he insisted. Keita is a source of encouragement and inspiration. “Every time I talk to him,” Sankhon said, “he gives me advice.”

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