Manchester United are all set to go head to head against Italian champions Juventus in their attempts to sign Lazio forward Keita Balde Diao. The 21-year old is a fine young prospect and has been a key presence for the Italian capital club, and has garnered a lot of admirers in recent times, but according to latest reports, it is United who are the frontrunners for the youngster’s signature, but faces fierce competition from the Bianconeri.
The 21-year old, born in Spain, to Senegalese parents, joined the renowned La Masia Academy of Barcelona in 2004 as a 9-year old. Having progressed through the ranks, Keita was taken to a tournament in Qatar with the Barca youth team in 2010, where he was reprimanded for disciplinary issues. As a punishment, the then 16-year old was sent on loan to UE Cornella, despite him having shown great promise.
The youngster excelled during his loan spell, scoring 47 times for the Cornella youth team through the 2010-11 season, but upon the end of his loan spell, Keita did not wish to return to the Catalans and hence attracted interest from the likes of Real Madrid and United. However, he opted to move to Lazio in the summer of 2011, for a reported fee of £300,000.
The youngster, however, was unable to play for Lazio for the first year due to passport and work permit issues. But the subsequent season, he started featuring for the Lazio Primavera youth side, but despite making it to the first team bench on several occasions, he did not make his senior debut. However, Keita was promoted to the first team ahead of the 2013-14 campaign and made his first senior team appearance in September 2013 against Chievo.
Five days later, he went on to make his European debut, against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League and he set up the only goal on the night, playing a crucial hand in his team’s victory. He finished his first season with the senior team with 6 goals and followed it up with solid performances in the subsequent seasons with 5 goals each in the next two campaigns.
However, this term, Keita has taken his game to a new level. Having been an ever-present in the Lazio line-up this season, the Senegalese international has scored 5 times in just 16 appearances and also has three assists to his name, and looks to be well on his way to his best scoring campaign.
Currently representing Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations, Keita made his national team debut in March 2016 against Nigeria in the AFCON qualifiers. So far, Keita has made 6 appearances for his country and has managed to net three times.
A versatile attacker by nature, the 21-year old can play as a striker or on the left-flank. He has also played in a No.10 role for the Biancocelesti this season. An excellent dribbler of the ball, Keita has a penchant for cutting in from the flanks and backs himself to take a shot at goal. However, a lack of accuracy in his crosses and a lack of defensive contribution are some of the chinks in his armour. He also needs to work hard on his composure inside the box.
Young, full of confidence and pacey, Keita is a fine prospect and has shown bags of potential with Lazio. However, to excel at the bigger stage, to take the next step in his career, there still remains quite a bit of work to be done. With Lazio demanding fees in the range of £26 million for the 21-year old, he does not seem to be worth that amount of investment at this point of time.