"The club had a great 2013/14 season, and I think we can do at least as well this season." he recently told FIFA.com. "Roma have fantastic fans. We have a very good squad, and the players know each other well. Our coach Rudi Garcia makes us play in an offensive way and that is an attractive way to play football.”
But doing well in the Serie A and the Champions League are not the only footballing goals Keita has. He wants to play at his seventh CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals next year in Morocco and Les Aigles are well on course. After three matches, the team was second in their group – three points behind Algeria but three ahead of Malawi – and with the top two from each group advancing to the finals, Mali are expected to make it through.
Keita played over the weekend against Ethiopia, and the Malians host the east Africans in the return on Wednesday. “Mali is rebuilding a team. There are young players who have been roped in and then there are some experienced players like Adama Tamboura, Fousseini Diawara and myself who are still in the side. But even if we are building a new side, we have to qualify for Morocco. It is a priority. We finished third in 2012 and 2013 and have to be there next year.”
Born in the Malian capital of Bamako in 1980, Keita learned his football ABCs at the Centre Salif Keita, which has also developed fellow international players like Mahamadou Diarra and Cheick Diabate. At a young age he showed enough promise that French club Olympique Marseille snatched him up and brought him to France, where he played in their youth sides as well as the reserve team.
He was then promoted to the first team squad and played his first game in Ligue 1 in 1999. Although he was also given playing time in the Champions League, he failed to command a regular place in the starting line-up and dropped down a league when he joined Lorient in 2000. He helped the club gain promotion in his first season and even though they were relegated the next season, Keita picked up his first silverware as the club won the French Cup with Keita playing the full game against Bastia.
Keita was then signed by Lens and spent five seasons with the club, being made club captain. His next port of call was Spain, where he joined Sevilla and won the Spanish Super Cup with the club. Although he signed a three-year contract with Sevilla, he left after just a season when Barcelona made them an offer they could not refuse. His four seasons with Barcelona coincide with the most successful period in the history of the club and Keita added three La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey, three Spanish Super Cups, two Champions League titles, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.
Notwithstanding a contract extension with the Spanish giants that would keep him with the club until 2014, he announced in 2012 that he would be joining Chinese club Dalian Aerbin, invoking a clause in his contract that allowed him to do so. He is aware that his decision was not welcomed by all fans. “There was criticism when I signed in China, but as I said at the time, I had a financial offer I could not refuse.”
His time in China was not only good, as he had some contractual issues with the club. “But sportingly it allowed me to discover something else. And when I left because I wanted to return to Europe, the club did not prevent me from doing so.” Keita signed for Valencia in January of this year and proved those, who thought that he no longer had what it took to play at a high level, wrong. “I did not lose my game in China. I have always been very professional and very serious.”
At the end of his six-month contract, he was on the move again – this time to Roma and only time will tell what else lies in store for him. “I do not know how much longer I'll play, but as long as the motivation and desire are there, I will continue."