From Paris 'cages' to Champions League final - the meteoric rise of Liverpool star Ibrahima Konate

·5-min read
Ibrahima Konate with the FA Cup - Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Ibrahima Konate with the FA Cup - Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté hopes the Champions League final will be a springboard on his journey towards becoming ‘the world’s best defender’.

It was not so long ago Konaté was playing football with his friends in the ‘cages’ of Paris, the idea of making it to the Stade de France only seeming possible with the help of finding a lucky golden ticket.

“Like most young Parisians we couldn’t get to see football in proper stadiums,” said Konaté.

“We didn’t have the money. And we didn’t play on [proper] pitches, because we didn’t have those opportunities.

“But we found ways to play football whenever and wherever we could - even with paper! I remember at school we used Sellotape and paper to make footballs to play with, and of course, we really didn’t need much to be happy, we were happy playing in the streets.

“If it was a ball made out of foam or leather or plastic – it would keep us busy all day. We’d play in the street, those cages, me and my brothers, and that’s why, I think, we have these talents/qualities.

 Kids play football (soccer) in the 'Chene Pointu', - Axelle de Russe/ABACAPRESS.COM
Kids play football (soccer) in the 'Chene Pointu', - Axelle de Russe/ABACAPRESS.COM

“I hope that I’ll reach even higher heights and be a source of inspiration for young people, an inspiration for more people to come from the streets of Paris into football. It would be good to think I can inspire more young players, and show it is possible.”

Konaté once lived a well-directed set-piece from the arena where Liverpool will strive to win their seventh European Cup this weekend. Yet what might seem a short journey to an iconic arena has required several detours.

Exactement! Exactly! A long, long journey. I remember six years ago when I had just joined Sochaux, we made the journey to go to Stade de France to see the Under-19s final (Coupe Gambardella),” he said.

“It’s incredible to think that I was watching a match at that level from the stands just a few years ago, my first time there, and now I’ll be on the grass ... playing in a Champions League final there. It really is some journey, yes!

“My dream at that time was simply to be a professional football player. I couldn’t think beyond that.”

Asked what his dream is now, he replied: “To be, one day, the best central defender in the world. And to win all the titles going. Every one.”

There were several occasions when the 23-year-old spoke about the meeting with Real Madrid when his eyes drifted to a mural at Liverpool's AXA Training Centre.

It is an image of the manager on the open top bus touring the city with the European Cup in 2019 accompanied by a Klopp quote.

“By Being Together at all times, we will be stronger, better and our success sweeter,” it reads.

“I can’t stop looking at the trophy,” says Konaté.

“I think that for this trophy/ Champions League, we’re talking about games I watched on TV as a kid and grew up watching. Even the final against Madrid [in 2018], when they lost, I watched on the TV. So it’s something that is already part of my history because I’ve seen it with my own eyes - it’s indescribable what it means - I’ve not got the words to explain what winning huge trophies like this one would mean.

Liverpool's Ibrahima Konate scores their first goal - REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Liverpool's Ibrahima Konate scores their first goal - REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

"The club wants to show that they’re already part of football history, and they want to go on demonstrating that year after year. So when I think about the motto of being together [You’ll Never Walk Alone], and having this history together, it is beyond words, beyond dreams.

“I never would have imagined it. I knew I was coming into a big club that wants to win titles and is going to win them. But this season is exceptional – and I think it’s a historic season as well for the club. I wasn’t expecting that.

“I think [the final] is definitely going to be the best moment of my life. The Champions League final. In Paris. My home. If I tried I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better.”

Klopp must choose between Konaté and Matip to partner Virgil van Dijk in Paris.

Matip has experience going for him, especially given the injury doubts around Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara - although both are expected to make the team sheet in Paris even if they are on the bench.

Konaté’s pace and set-piece prowess is an asset, particularly given the threat of Vinicius Jr. The young defender has proven himself to be a complementary partner to Van Dijk.

“I think with Liverpool, it’s the whole team that defends, it’s not just the defenders - and I think that without the work of the middle and the attackers you can’t defend as well,” said Konaté.

“Van Dijk does give me some advice before certain games, but he also trusts me to make certain decisions. He’s not like, ‘You need to do this, you need to do that’ before each match. He lets me play to my strengths and that’s great and exceptional. At the moment, it’s going well with all the defenders - and we need to keep it up.”

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