One to watch: Keita Baldé

Ligue 1 Conforama > News

Get to know Keita Baldé, the AS Monaco and Senegal attacker who has been front and centre in the early days of the Robert Moreno era at the principality club.

Moreno replaced Leonardo Jardim as Monaco coach in December, with the Portuguese coach struggling to recreate the glories of his first spell at the club, during which time he won the Ligue 1 Conforama title in 2017.

Moreno, fresh from guiding Spain to qualification for this summer's UEFA Euro 2020 finals tournament across the continent, may only have overseen two games in all competitions so far, but he has already rung the changes.

Ditching Jardim's three-man defence is a tactical switch, but at the other end of the field, it's team selection and personnel that have made the difference. Les Rouges et Blancs have knocked Stade de Reims out of the Coupe de France and held Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-3 draw in the French capital.

Watch: Highlights of Monaco's 3-3 draw with PSG

Key to those successes has been Baldé, who has helped himself to two goals and an assist across those two games, but what else is there to know about him?

Back story: 

He may have turned out 30 times for Senegal, but Keita Baldé Diao - to give him his full name - was actually born in Arbúcies, an hour's drive northeast of Barcelona, to Senegalese parents in March 1995.

Picked up by Barcelona's fabled La Masia youth academy at the age of nine, the forward first caught the attention of other European giants when, aged 15, he plundered 47 goals during a loan spell with the youth team of their third-tier satellite club Cornellà.

Lazio won the race for his signature in 2011, but had to wait until he was granted Spanish citizenship and therefore an EU passport before eventually handing him his Italian Serie A debut in 2013.

He wasted little time in endearing himself to the Biancocelesti faithful from there, opening his account in his second game for the club. The following three seasons saw him score the fastest league hat-trick since 1975 and become the first player to bag a brace against Roma since Roberto Mancini in 1998, before swapping Lazio for Monaco in the summer of 2017.

Having initially struggled to settle in the principality, Baldé spent last season on loan at Inter Milan before returning to the Stade Louis II last summer.

      Baldé idolised former Barca and Inter star Samuel Eto'o, who could also play out wide and through the middle.

Style of play: 

An athletically built 6'1" winger, the nominally right-footed Baldé prefers to line up on the left, where his pace and power allow him to cut inside and go for goal himself or, should the opposition defender guide him onto his not-so-much weaker left foot, get around the back and cut the ball back for a teammate. 

His close control, speed of thought and ability to dribble mean that Baldé can also be used to devastating effect through the middle, where his height also allows him to get on the end of crosses that he might, at other times, deliver himself. 

Current campaign:

Baldé only started five games under Jardim in the first half of the season, with Islam Slimani preferred as Wissam Ben Yedder's strike partner up front and Portuguese pair Gelson Martins and Gil Dias dominating playing time in the wide areas. 

Another move away - perhaps permanent this time - was mooted, but Baldé has been afforded a new lease of life under Moreno. 

Playing much closer to Ben Yedder than when he dipped into the first-team picture before, two of Baldé's most recent four goals of late have been headers - a tally that might have been three in five had Mike Maignan not saved before Ben Yedder poked home in the 5-1 win over Lille, Jardim's final game in charge.

      Baldé endured a difficult start to the season but seems to have turned a corner under Moreno.

What you didn't know:

Baldé was very nearly released by Barcelona for a prank when he was 15. With the club in Qatar for a youth tournament, the young forward placed an ice cube in a teammate's bed, and Barca, trying to balance club discipline with the fact that Baldé was seen as a future first-team prospect, sent him on that loan to Cornellà. 

When he got his reported €300,000 move to Lazio, Cornellà, who struggle to fill their 1,500-capacity stadium, picked up ten per cent of the fee as part of the deal. A game-changing move for club and player, Baldé has since made it work in two leagues outside of his native Spain. 

And if it hadn't worked out? Well, he explained that in his own words to CalcioMercato: "What I would do if I wouldn't be a footballer? I'd have become a hairdresser."

Best goal: 

Baldé may have scored more spectacular goals than the one which put Monaco into the lead in December's 5-1 win over LOSC, but his header in that victory perfectly encapsulates the player he is threatening to become.    

With Ruben Aguilar breaking free on the right-hand side, Baldé read the game beautifully, getting in between defenders Zeki Çelik and José Fonte in the box and rising highest to power a header beyond Maignan like a classic number 9.

Watch: Baldé's bullet header against Lille

What he said:  

"I returned to Monaco to play an important role after my experience at Inter Milan. Before I was playing less, but the important thing is to make a difference when you're on the pitch and to enjoy it as well. There's no secret, it's only work that has paid off, and self-confidence."

- Baldé on his second spell at Monaco coming good

"I'm happy, but frankly I think we could've won this match. Keylor Navas stopped me from making it 3-1, but it shows the character of the team, how we've improved, how we've worked hard all week. I'm really happy for the team." 

- Baldé on Monaco's 3-3 draw with PSG 

What they said:

"He has great physical and technical qualities, and we'll hear a lot about him soon. He was born in '95 so you have to give him time, but he already has explosiveness and technique, which is really important. Lazio have a gem." 

- Former Juventus striker Nicola Amoruso predicting greatness for Baldé after Lazio signed him.

>> PLAYER PROFILE: Keita Baldé


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