As Seydou Keita departs Barcelona for Chinese Super League outfit Dalian Aerbin, it is his influence in the dressing room and at the Joan Gamper training complex, rather than his exploits on the Camp Nou turf, which are likely to be most missed.
Keita’s move to the Chinese Super League – where he will join former Barcelona midfielder Fabio Rochemback – has been motivated by financial considerations. With his income tax rate set to rise from 23 per cent to 42 per cent this summer, the 32-year-old admitted: “if it wouldn't have been for the tax issue, I would have stayed. The club couldn't do more and I couldn't either.”
Without ever becoming a central figure under Pep Guardiola, Keita can nevertheless boast a glittering array of titles during his four-year stint at the club. The highlights amongst his 14 trophies included three La Liga and two Champions League titles. In averaging 47 games a season since joining from Sevilla for €14m, the energetic and industrious midfielder has provided good value for money. His capacity to run beyond opposition lines married with his height offered an alternative threat in a team not renowned for its ability in the air. Versatile and adaptable, his presence enabled the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta to take an occasional breather.
Like any Coach competing on domestic and European fronts, Guardiola recognised the value of a player of Keita’s ilk. Although the Malian was rarely first choice, his positive attitude and infectious enthusiasm around the club made him the perfect squad player.
“It has been an honour to share the dressing room with Keita for four years. An example on and off the pitch,” Gerard Pique said in leading a list of tributes from former teammates.
This was perhaps most evident when ahead of the 2008-09 Champions League Final, Guardiola turned to the midfielder to resolve a defensive injury crisis. However, Keita told his Coach that there were better options available within the squad. Veteran Sylvinho’s comfortable performance at left-back as La Blaugrana kept a clean sheet testified to Keita’s honesty, prompting Guardiola to state: “he’s a moral and ethical yardstick for me. I’ve known few other people with his humanity.”
Tito Vilanova will this week meet with sports director Andoni Zubizarreta to discuss how to take the squad forward following Keita’s departure. The new Coach may find it easier to replace his role on the pitch rather than his influence around the club.