Jurgen Klopp's relief at signing Naby Keita: 'We were lucky to do early business, he was worth waiting for'Jurgen Klopp's relief at signing Naby Keita: 'We were lucky to do early business, he was worth waiting for'
The ever reliable James Milner was a deserving man of the match as Liverpool swept aside West Ham on opening day at Anfield last Sunday.
But the name on every Liverpool fan's lips as they spilled out of the Kop and on to Lower Breck Road was of another Reds midfielder: Naby Keita.
Perhaps it was the year they'd had to wait to see the Guinean, signed the summer previous for £52.75m from RB Leipzig, which had merely whetted the appetite and set their tongues wagging.
Or perhaps it was a debut performance of real class, tantalising evidence that the 23-year-old could be the missing link which can help Liverpool bridge that 25-point Premier League gap to Manchester City.
If supporter expectations perhaps need to be held in check after just one 90-minute display, Jurgen Klopp is not inclined to be the man to do it.
The Liverpool manager himself admits he has no idea just how good Keita can be, music to the ears of a support more inclined than most to welcome the next Messiah into their midst.
"Naby, we all have no clue how good he can be. He's too young to judge. What can we say?" said Klopp.
"Obviously he learned very quickly already in the last few years, from Austria (Red Bull Salzburg) to Leipzig, now here. So he adapts constantly and brings himself to the next level. Adapts to the other players, uses them really well.
"So that was the idea when we signed him, it was worth waiting for sure. Usually you don't get a player like him. It's quite difficult. He's 23 and all the other clubs are not blind, so we were lucky we could do very unusual business a bit early and wait for him."
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The Liverpool manager has been impressed by how quickly Keita has adapted to life at Anfield and gives much of the credit to his previous club Leipzig.
Klopp acknowledges the 12 month wait to come to Anfield was a difficult time for the Guinean, who collected four red cards in Germany last season.
"It's clear if you come to us it helps you to settle immediately. That one year at Leipzig was not easy for him, you could see it on the pitch. He's very young.
"We wanted him desperately and we accepted it (the wait), we didn't fight, but he wanted to come immediately. When somebody tells you 'it can happen in a year' nobody in the world likes that message.
"And so he struggled a bit with that, though not too much. Last year was not his best season, the season before was completely next level.
"Last year was normal with a few nice highlights and a few unlucky red cards. We watched them again, it was just a millisecond late here, too excited there.
"Young players do that. It was not that he was overly harsh in his challenges, just that he was too ready to win it. Sometimes when you come too late, it's not too cool."
At this stage Klopp appears to have a wealth of midfield options for Monday's trip to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace, with the likes of summer signing Fabinho and Adam Lallana yet to kick a ball in anger, while Jordan Henderson will be pressing for a return to the starting line-up.
Just one game into the campaign though and it would be a huge surprise if Keita was the man to make way for anybody, however many options Klopp can call upon.
"We talk about Naby Keita, thet's good, he's new. But James Milner made big steps in the last three years, that's the truth," said Klopp.
"I don't want to judge his career but it feels like it's the best moment of his career.
"Gini Wijnaldum, no-one speaks about him. He came from Newcastle as kind of No 10/winger. He can play the '6' and the '8' in the way I don't know many players can. They don't talk about him. It's like he could fill up the bench.
"The world is like that. When it's new it's fantastic, what you already have 'yeah I'm still here too'.
"We only spoke about these three but Fabinho didn't play a minute so far and we expect big things from him. Adam Lallana, a long time injured, Shaqiri.
"All these things are good but they need to be good. It's not that we are surprised. It's exactly as good as necessary. That's exciting but the only thing we can do is work really hard and make the best of it."