New Liverpool signing Naby Keita admits being given Steven Gerrard’s number eight shirt – which he was presented with by the former Reds captain himself – will motivate him as he starts his Anfield career.
The Guinea international begins pre-season training with the non-World Cup members of Jurgen Klopp’s squad on Monday, having waited a year for the opportunity after a deal was agreed with RB Leipzig last summer.
And wearing the number Gerrard had for 11 years at Anfield, famously lifting the Champions League trophy in it in 2005, is a huge honour.
“It is an important number and it carries a lot of history, but more importantly for me this number will give me the motivation to play and to follow in the footsteps of the players who have worn this shirt before,” Keita told LFCTV.
Keita travelled to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground in August following the conclusion of a deal with Leipzig and while he was there Gerrard, then the club’s under-18s coach, presented him with his shirt.
“It was an incredible day for me. He gave me the number eight jersey. When it happened, it was a surprise and I didn’t expect it,” added Keita, who scored 17 goals in 71 appearances for the Bundesliga side.
“When he came in, I looked and him and said ‘Wow’ because he is a legend. He is somebody who always showed respect, who gave his all on the pitch, somebody who is loved here.
“If somebody like that gives you his shirt number, it’s not to play around with, it is to try and do as much as he did – that’s my motivation.”
Manager Jurgen Klopp was so keen to secure the services of the 23-year-old he was prepared to pay a premium in order to sign him a year ago with the agreement he could spend a further season in the Bundesliga.
Keita had a £48million buy-out clause due to become active this summer but Liverpool were keen to avoid the inevitable bidding war so struck a deal with Leipzig in which the final fee would be dependent on their league placing.
The German side’s failure to qualify for the Champions League meant the eventual figure was around £52.75m.
Keita watched Liverpool’s progress all the way to their Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid and hopes he can help them improve further.
“When you see how they performed last season it makes me want to do the same and be part of this team,” he said.
“I saw nearly every one of (Liverpool’s games). It gave me the motivation to be with the team and try to find my place within the team.
“I would like to be able to achieve a similar kind of season with them next season – but even better.
“It’s a team that can beat anyone in Europe and has a lot of potential. I can’t wait to play in this team.”
Keita was best friends with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane – the pair share the same agent – when they were together at Red Bull Salzburg and he believes when the Senegal international returns from World Cup duty he will help him settle in.
“He is like family to me. We were friends at Salzburg, he was like a brother to me. After training we used to go home together. He was my best friend there,” said the midfielder, who revealed as a youngster his local team used to play in Liverpool shirts.
“During my integration with the team he’ll be there for me. We did eight months together at Salzburg and I am looking forward to being his team-mate again.”