19th February 2018
Salif Keita was the First African Player of the Year 1970 and the Messi of 70s!
History Revisited (27/09/17)
Salif Keita Traore, popularly known as Salif Keita has gone down in football history as the pioneer to clinch the African Player of the Year award.
Salif Keita was born in Bamako, playing in Mali for AS Real Bamako and Stade Malien. With the former, which he represented in two different spells, he was always crowned top division champion. (Photo: Salif Keita).
In 1967, 20-year-old Keita left for France to join AS Saint-Étienne, where he won three consecutive Ligue 1 titles, including the double in 1968 and 1970. In his last two seasons with Les Verts combined, he scored an astonishing 71 league goals - 42 alone in the 1970/71 campaign - but the club failed to win any silverware; in 1970, he was voted African Footballer of the Year.
Keita joined fellow league side Olympique de Marseille in the 1972 summer. After the club tried to force him to assume French nationality, he opposed, leaving in the ensuing off-season for Valencia CF in Spain.
Spanish newspapers were accused of racism when one headline read El Valencia va a por alemanes y vuelve con un negro 'Valencia goes out to buy Germans and comes back with a black man', but he was always loved during his spell at the club, netting in his debut with the Che, a 2-1 La Liga home win against Real Oviedo and being eventually nicknamed La perla negra de Malí (The black pearl of Mali). He complained, however, that he was constantly played out of position.
In 1976, after three years with Valencia, Keita signed for Sporting Clube de Portugal, where he replaced another legendary goalscorer, Héctor Yazalde. In two of his three seasons with the Lisbon club he scored in double digits, winning one domestic cup. He retired at the age of 34, after a couple of years with the New England Tea Men in the United States.
International Career and Personal Life
In 1963, at the age of only 16, Keita was selected to play for Mali. He was part of the squad that appeared at the 1972 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, helping the national team to finish second.
In June 2005, Keita was elected president of the Mali Football Federation for a period of four years. Late into the following year, he was selected by the Confederation of African Football as one of the best 200 African football players of the last 50 years.
Keita's nephew, Seydou Keita, is also a footballer. He also played some years in France, and later represented, with great team and individual success, FC Barcelona. Mohamed Sissoko, who played namely for Valencia, Liverpool and Juventus FC, is also his nephew; both play similar roles as central midfielders; another nephew, Sidi Yaya Keita, is also a footballer and a midfielder, who played most of his career in France with RC Lens.
Guinean film director Cheik Doukouré used the life of Keita as a starting point for his 1994 work Le Ballon d'or. In 1994, he created the first training center for professional football players in Mali, which bore his name. From 2007, Keita acted as delegated minister of the Prime Minister of Mali.