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Are Mali right to overlook Seydou Keita?

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Piers Edwards | 11:48 UK time, Friday, 18 March 2011

You can count the legends of Malian football on the fingers of one hand, which is why the treatment of Seydou Keita this week is all the more surprising.

With the retirements of uncle Salif (the first African Footballer of the Year in 1970) and Frederic Kanoute (who's still playing club football for Seville), Momo Sissoko crocked until the end of the season, that just leaves Mahamadou Diarra and Keita still eligible to play for the Eagles.

Diarra, a defensive midfielder who once netted a crucial goal to help Real Madrid win the Spanish league but who was loaned to Monaco in January, is still in the thick of things and captains the side.

Despite occasionally representing a side many pundits are claiming to be the best ever, Barcelona's Keita, 31, failed to make coach Alain Giresse's squad this week.

Barcelona's Seydou Keita has failed in his bid to return to Mali's national team

There's a long and a short explanation for that - the former being that the former Seville star has been an absentee for the West Africans since the 2010 Nations Cup, the latter being that Giresse is shooting himself in the foot.

Keita hasn't turned out for the Eagles since last year's disappointing Nations Cup for the simple reason that he wanted to take a self-imposed break from international football.

But, and it's a big but, earlier this month he did declare his desire to return to the side as they try to reach the 2012 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Nonetheless, Giresse overlooked him from his squad yesterday - on the grounds that Keita's return would disturb the harmony of the group.

While understandable that the Frenchman - who knows a thing or two about midfield play given his unforgettable place in France's revered 1984 side (alongside Platini, Mali-born Tigana and Fernandez) - is keen to show loyalty to those who have been playing, it beggars belief that he's excluding Keita.

Especially given his skills, composure and the influence he can have on the side, as anyone who witnessed the incredible comeback he sparked in the amazing 4-4 draw with 2010 hosts Angola (scoring twice after Mali trailed 4-0 after 78 mins) will attest.

It seems as though Giresse is punishing Keita for his exile, even though far more complicated Africans have been welcomed back into their national sides after far worse (see Messrs El Hadji Diouf, Mido, etc.).

In fact, the norm is for managers to try to tempt big names out of retirement - as repeatedly happened with Kalusha Bwalya in Zambia and to give a European perspective, with Paul Scholes in England - and though Giresse says he'll talk to Keita about his return after the match, why not now?

If he's going to be welcomed back one day, why wait?

To the best of my knowledge, Keita is not a trouble-maker and in all the time he was absent missed only two competitive matches - a surprise loss in Cape Verde before the home win over Liberia.

It's hardly as though he's left them in the lurch but Giresse has clearly decided he can live without a player who won the Golden Ball at the 1999 U20 World Cup (above Ronaldinho, Xavi and Diego Forlan) for the clash with Zimbabwe, and who is good enough to cover for the same Xavi and Iniesta when required by Barca coach Pep Guardiola.

Surely a man with that sort of pedigree (not to mention the fact that his uncle Salif can also boast Juve's Sissoko as a nephew) should walk back into a side ranked 85th in the world - whatever the sensitivities of group dynamics.

Yes, those who filled in in the absence of a man with a Champions League medal (among other trophies) in his pocket may feel aggrieved by any swift return but they can surely also recognise superior footballing ability when they see it.

The incident reminds me of Mamadou Niang's attempts to return to the Senegalese national team after previously quitting in despair over the chronic administration of the game in the land of the 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists.

With the team in trouble under coach Lamin N'Diaye and needing to beat The Gambia to qualify, Niang buried his various hatchets and said he was prepared to come back.

But despite the fact that the then Marseille man was then the hottest Senegalese striker around, with 21 goals in 38 league games, N'Diaye chose to keep faith with the players who had performed in qualifiers when they could have been on inter-season holidays.

Laudable in theory but in practice, a team of ageing has-beens, best exemplified by a poor Henri Camara, failed to see off their minnow neighbours, so crashing out of 2010 World Cup qualifying at the earliest stage and sparking extensive rioting in Dakar.

Next week's clash between Mali and Zimbabwe, with the Eagles lying second in Group A, has nowhere near as much significance but Giresse is still taking an unnecessary gamble.


  • Comment number 1.

    I would imagine one of the main reasons why Keita has been overlooked is the fact that he has only been in Barça's starting line up 10 times this season. In European teams it is very common for squad managers to only pick players who have been playing regularly, so why shouldn't the same be true for an African team?

  • Comment number 2.

    PottersXerez, I don't think so...Klose has a starting spot for Germany yet he doesn't get a game for Bayern Munich...Podolski the same before he moved to Cologne, Heskey before retiring, Shay Given warms the bench for Man City but is first choice for Ireland...

    I'd advise Giresse to put Keita back in the squad. He's not a bad boy, he just needed a rest. This is not a friendly match you know. If it was not a friendly I'd understand.

    Piers, don't forget Benni McCarthy, how many fallouts and goal-scoring comebacks has he made for Bafana Bafana?

  • Comment number 3.

    I was am a big Keita fan until I read that he imposed a period internationl non-engagement on himself. Any player who imposes a period of absence from playing for his country should NEVER be allowed to wear the national jerseys again. I hope the Ghana football association is bold enough to do the same thing to Michael Essien for his bluff. Getting injured whiles on international duty is no reason to make your land of birth the second option. People should see the opportunity to wear their national colours as a previlegde and should do so with pride.

  • Comment number 4.

    I have nothing against Keita who I think is one of Africa's leading lights on the global stage, but I totally see Giresse's point.

    I am African and I know sentiments run deep this side of the earth. With Keita, Diarra, Kanoute, Mali still had a disappointing CAN 2010, so his return is no guarantee for anything.

    Ghana can beg Essien today - and I will have nothing against that - but if tomorrow he turns a bit player and wants to return... I'd have everything against him being fast-tracked into the team.

    When Keita left last year he was on a high in Barca, not quite so now.

    The moral? African teams aren't mechanic shops to fix ailing cars. I see a lot of that happening in Nigeria, I hope with Siasia that's past.

    Having said that Keita is not quite a 1960 Buick and I want to see him play in the very next match for Mali - preferably a friendly.

  • Comment number 5.

    I fail to see why the decision of the coach here represents an unnecessary gamble.For too long, poor administration and suspect coaching have combined to frustrate african football so richly blessed with raw talents to no end! The coach has chosen to lay the groundwork for enduring sucess by emphasizing commitment,opportunity for all and harmony rather than the lazy and quick fix approach of eternally prolonging the careers of fading stars.I am sure that Monsieur Giresse from experience ought to know one or two things required for playing harmonious football! Has Piers Edward wondered why there are few Malian players rising to stardom inpsite of the unadulterated talent on display on the street corners in Bamako? no? It is because people like Keita who are in the limelight playing for Barcelona can choose to walk in and out of the national team as they like ultimately denying the next group of players about to showcase their talents for a bigger audience.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Glad to know that someone not only has an interest in Malian football. Mali has more legends than your fingers can hold. In the ranking of the best ever in Mali, Seydou may come 12th or 14th. Although it does not seem like it, Mali is a great nation of soccer that was set back by years of military ruleu(1968-1991). Let me give you a list of Malian greats that all surpass Seydou in skills: Salif Keita, Bakoroba Toure, Cheick Fantamady Diallo, Cheick Fantamady Keita, Ousmane Traore Ousmane blenin, Mamadou Keita Capi, Idrissa Traore Poker, Bourama Traore dit Allah ka Bourama, Sadia Cisse, Frederic Kanoute, Seydou Traore Guatigui, Issa Yattasaye, Abdoulaye Kaloga,Yacouba Diarra Pele and others.
    Alain Giresse is admonishing Keita in a safe way. The reasoning is that if Mali cannot be Zimbabwe on March 26, then they do not deserve to be there ay way.

  • Comment number 8.

    I am sure that Monsieur Giresse from experience ought to know one or two things required for playing harmonious football! Has Piers Edward wondered why there are few Malian players rising to stardom inpsite of the unadulterated talent on display on the street corners in Bamako? no? Opencart Templates
    I'd advise Giresse to put Keita back in the squad. He's not a bad boy, he just needed a rest. This is not a friendly match you know. If it was not a friendly I'd understand.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm fan of FC Barcelona, ​​and I think that the midfielder has offered excellent performance in his last appearances and his return to Sánchez Pizjuán [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] against Sevilla, is an added motivational factor for its consolidation as a starter against Sevilla. The Malian ensures greater work capacity and pressure in midfield who can swing the balance to a tough Sevilla in the field of play and will be supported by his fans.

    In contrast, the emergence of African football in the starting line to the substitution condemn Pedro. Do not forget that the striker suffered a concussion in the last Champions League match against Arsenal. The canary has trained apart from their peers and Guardiola is likely to choose not to force the machine and the player decides to book at least initially.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sorry for the delay in replying - but PottersXerex, like Lagellerotumblero, I disagree with your assertion that Keita isn't selected because he isn't a regular starter for Barca. Because you could lay that claim against several of his midfield team-mates, some of whom often start on the bench at their clubs. Just as most of South Africa's World Cup side did - and Lagellerotumblero, as for Benni McCarthy's various fall-outs/comebacks, how long have we got?!

    As for the difficulties facing Malians to reach the top of the game, I don't believe that a star player taking a break and then coming back is inhibiting the next generation. If a player comes into the side in the absence of a Seydou Keita, say, and proves his worth, then that absence has created the space in which he has flourished - if he's good enough, I'm sure the coach can then find a place for him somewhere in the side when the star returns.

  • Comment number 11.

    i think keita would make a good impact in national team being playing for a good club,experience is needed.

  • Comment number 12.

    I am a Malian and I love football than anything in my life, I do not know the true motivation about the coach decision to drop Seydou Keita. I am a big fan of Keita and he was Mali best player in African Natios Cup in 2010; but he deserved to be dropped from the squad due to the fact that he imposed a self exiled on himself. Not only Keita should be dropped other big mane bad performer such such Mamandou Diarra and Momo Sissoko should axed from the square. I know how this chap performance for their Club in Europe, but their commitment to Mali causes is very short of their capabilities.

  • Comment number 13.

    You might be surprised Giresse might not be the one not selecting him, but the malian FA preventing him from doing so after feeling insulted!

  • Comment number 14.

    I think it is Giresse's and the team's loss not including Keita on the squad, but I understand where he is coming from. At the same time, I don't know why Keita took his self-imposed break. Maybe he just needed to recoup and if that is the case, it is a shame he won't be playing for his country.

    Thanks for the article!
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 15.


    Sometimes you have to take a break so you can come back stronger.


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