From Paris to Liverpool via Leipzig. Ibrahima Konaté has caught the eye upon his every step. FTF rolled back the years and spoke to his first coach.
Reda Bekhti still remembers the day twelve years ago when he first spotted Ibrahima Konaté.
The young boy made the trip from the 11th arrondissement in Paris to the suburbs for a trial with Paris FC.
Ten year old Ibrahima, did not have a lot of experience playing on green turfs. He’d grown up kicking balls on the streets and cages of Paris with his brothers and idolised the Brazilian Ronaldo.
But even so, Bekhti was impressed by the lanky boy.
‘I saw great athletic potential in him. He had good technique. He was lanky but had a good margin of progression. That’s why we chose to bring him to Paris FC,’ Bekhti recalls to FTF.
Twelve years later, Ibrahima Konaté is still catching the eye and making good first impressions. Now at the top echelons of football.
One of eight children born to immigrant parents from Mali, Ibrahima grew up in one of the most densely populated urban districts in modern Europe.
As a youngster he had the intetion to play as a striker. He spent most of his early days at Paris FC playing there too. But Bekhti was not entirely convinced that it was the best position for his young protege.
‘He played in attack at the start. He was okay in this position but a little clumsy and he lacked coordination.’
Ibrahima struggled to break into the side. However, Bekhti was not willing to give up in his raw potential just yet. He had an idea.
‘With the help of the coach of my U13 B team we decided after a few conversations to put him in a midfield position.’
The rest as Bekhti puts it is ‘history.’
‘That was the trigger. He settled into the defensive midfield position immediately with monstrous ease as if he had always played in this position.’
It was not long before others around Paris started to take notice.
‘We played a match against Torcy where we had won 6-1. After that game the recruiters of Sochaux decided to invite him to for a trial,’ Bekhti says proudly.
Rising like a phoenix
At Sochaux, the coaches helped to further hone Ibrahima’s defensive skills. He settled deeper into a centre-back role and a few years after joining the club Ibrahima Konaté was making his debut in the first team at the age of 17.
13 games in the first team at Sochaux was enough to convince Ralf Ragnick and the RB Leipzig scouts to take a punt on him.
Konaté has not looked back since.
Barring a few injury problems Ibrahima Konaté has established himself as one of the best up and coming defenders in the Bundesliga.
His lanky stride, pace, and technical ability on the ball from his striker days has made him a well-rounded centre-back.
Winning 70.98% of his defensive duels in 2018/19 (his last fully fit season), only one defender had a better success rate in the Bundesliga under the age of 21 via Wyscout.
Konate’s best assets are perfect for the Liverpool model and Jurgen Klopp’s high defensive line.
He is someone who is calm, assured on the ball and confident in possession.
In 2018/19, no centre-back averaged more dribbles per 90 at 1.59 with an 86.67% success rate in the Bundesliga. His 1.41 progressive runs per 90 was also the highest.
With 8.84 per 90 he also made the 3rd most progressive passes for U21 centre-backs.
But it’s not just his abilities on the field that stand out about him according to Bekhti. The 22 year old Frenchman exudes confidence on the pitch and this has been present at a young age.
‘Ibrahima was a serious boy, a very polite worker, and a very good listener. As he progressed he gained a great deal of self-confidence which made him become the man he is today; confident of his qualities and his potential.’
The next step
Breaking into a wilted Liverpool defence may seem easy on paper, but with Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez all set to be fit for pre-season, the 22 year old will have to fight for his place.
It is a fight Ibrahima Konaté is ready for.
His parents instilled an insatiable work ethic in the young man. Something Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool fans are about to get a taste of.
‘His best trait is his character,’ Bekhti says affirmatively. ‘He is very humble and works hard.’
When Ibrahima first came to Paris FC, Bekhti saw this first hand.
‘At the beginning to tell you the truth we did not think he was going to become the player he has become today.’
It took time for Konaté to win his coaches over.
‘Gradually he got out of his shyness and gained confidence in himself. He made enormous progress, listening to his coaches on the field. That is why he is a complete player defensively today.’
Hard-work is the core principle of Jurgen Klopp’s approach at Liverpool. Both on and off the field. The German looks for players with the mentality to always improve and better themselves.
Klopp has taken a lot of his acquisitions at Anfield, and Borussia Dortmund to the next level in their career.
Having impressed many at Leipzig, this move for Konaté certainly seems like the beginning of another metamorphosis in the 22 year old’s career.
For Bekhti the sky is the limit and he is confident his former protege will prove his worth at Anfield.
‘If he continues to work hard and stays disciplined he can become one of the best defenders in the world and be the future boss of the French national team.’
Liverpool fans have been craving for a centre-back of Konaté’s ilk for almost a year.
And if Bekhti is to be believed, they will not be disappointed.
‘By signing for one of the best clubs in the world in Liverpool, with one of the best coaches in the world, I think he will progress on and achieve his goals.’
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