Liverpool’s African fronted attack could build a lasting legacy for the Reds.
Naby Keita was finally able to show us all why Liverpool worked so hard to secure his services ahead of Bayern Munich. On his debut in front of The Kop, Keita had the fans purring with his wonderful build-up play, aggressive charges and perfectly weighted passing.
If he can build on that display against West Ham and continue to link up so perfectly with the front three, then he will be a perfect compliment for the club’s attacking play.
Almost a side note; he will also be the third African player in Liverpool’s potent attack, joining up with his former housemate Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
Much is expected from Liverpool this season but if their African led attack can help propel them to the heights their fans are all hoping to see, then they could leave a very important legacy behind for the future of the club.
Liverpool’s barren years in the Premier League, unfortunately, coincided with the burgeoning growth of the division’s global brand appeal. As the club fell down the pecking order, below Manchester United and Arsenal, they failed to capitalise on the new markets emerging for the increased commercialisation of the English game.
By the time Chelsea barged through in 2003, they too were perfectly placed to see an explosion of shirt sales and admirers, particularly in Africa. Their 1997 signing of Celestine Babayaro, who won three winners medals with the West London club put down important foundations for their Nigerian fanbase, but it was their success at the top of the Premier League which really took things to another level.
Fast forward to present day and their global fan base tops 135 million, much of which is attributed to North and West Africa. Not too shabby for a side which has only won the league six times. Their success has come at the perfect time for them to reap the financial rewards that come with huge global support.
By contrast, Liverpool are firmly in fourth place in large swathes of the continent. Their lack of consistent success in the Premier League era has hurt them as a younger generation of supporters simply don’t remember the glory years of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Sir Kenny.
This could be set for a huge shift though with The Red’s currently so well supplied with African attackers. Salah has reached a level of adoration in his homeland and no doubt a generation of kids growing up watching him will want to consume the Liverpool brand. More importantly, there is more than just commercial gain at stake here for the club.
“The club has such a big history and great players like Thierry Henry. He’s an example for us strikers. I’m a fast player and I score goals too, like Henry a little bit. I think I have to work a lot to be like him, but I will do.“
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s words when he signed for Arsenal in January were revealing in a number of ways. The French-born striker of African heritage was more than just reading off a cue card for the club’s marketing department.
Aubameyang is the right age to have grown up adoring the world-class talent of Thierry Henry as he danced around Premier League defenders with ease and ridiculous flare. Henry was the linchpin of that great side, however, Arsenal’s great team under Wenger was bulging with players of African heritage.
While Henry descends from the Carribean, his team-mates at the time were predominantly French-African. Vieira, Toure, Lauren, Sagna, Kanu and Adebayor to name just a few.
In fact, sixteen African born players donned Arsenal colours during Wenger’s reign. They all would have helped to give Arsenal great appeal and pulling power for the best talent coming out of that continent for years. Who wouldn’t want to play at the club where your childhood heroes were so influential?
The same opportunity is now available to Liverpool. Mane and Salah have gone global as their success at Anfield has intensified. The effect of this has seen Liverpool’s stock rise in their home nations.
Ill-advised moves under Gerard Houllier’s management in 2002, saw Salif Diao and El Hadji Diouf brought in for spectacularly unsuccessful spells at Anfield. The duo arrived to much fanfare after the World Cup in Japan & South Korea. Although they both endured miserable times on Merseyside, their transfers could perhaps be seen as an early sortie by the club to capitalize on an emerging market. It obviously backfired, but the door had been opened to future big money moves for Africa’s big names.
Inroads are being made to elbow into the territory dominated by United. Arsenal and Chelsea. Liverpool’s official Egypt supporters club page has nearly 80,000 Mo Salah fueled likes. The club has recently launched a page for the clubs contingent of Senegalese fans.
The support and interest is always going to be there for a club the size of Liverpool. However, the hope will be that with the African players now at the club and with Keita joining them, they can influence the next generation of young, would be footballers, with that continent now officially hooked on the Premier League.
If that talented trio can spearhead Liverpool’s bid for success then it could lay the foundations for Liverpool’s future appeal in Africa.