Fare thee well, Keiteeee!, you will be missed

Sighhhhh

This is my absolute, all-time favorite picture of Seydou Keita, the man I nicknamed “Huh? What?” because he always had a look of incredulity on his face that was hilarious. That man is leaving the club, it was announced today, as he informed the powers that be of his wishes to no longer continue with a club at which he became an integral part.

As we all know, now-gone coach Pep Guardiola had nothing but love for Keiteee. Here are some comments after, fresh from a return from the African Cup of Nations, Keita turned himself inside out to help the club outbattle a pesky Sporting Gijon side:

“This is a guy who never plays poorly and who always makes the right decision.

“There are many players who, when they lose the confidence of a coach, are offended. They feel that they are the center of the universe and do not understand that the coach does it [drops them] for the good of the team.

“But one of the most wonderful things in these four years is to have met a guy like him.

“Today I’m happy that he has had such a huge game and scored a great goal. The work he does makes my job easier and I hope he will stay here as long as possible.”

He joined the club in 2008 from Sevilla, the club’s first Malian player, for a sum believed to be around 14m. At the time, we set his release clause at 90m, something we apparently don’t believe any longer, as he is leaving on a free. And I bet you’ve forgotten, as I did, that his Liga debut was in a loss (against Numancia), one of only 7 that occurred under his watch.

His statistics aren’t really all that impressive, for you stat whores: 22 goals and 11 assists in 188 matches. And there was a growing cadre of “Keita is worthless” believers, who found it difficult to understand why Guardiola played him, when he seemingly contributed so little statistically to the side. But I remember my Keita Revelation thanks to Ramzi, verbose commenter and advocate for the Malian midfielder.

For a match, I watched Keita and only Keita, a task that made me realize why he plays. I also wanted to change his nickname to In The Way, because that’s what he does. You think that “Hey, any damn body can get in the way,” but not the way that Keita did. His loping strides seemed to almost always place him in a spot that made him a pain in the butt for the opponents’ attack.

But more than that, he was a physical presence in a world of sprites, a not-at-all magical creature who stood up, man-style, and kept out midfield from being pushed around by the big kids.

Here is Keita’s last goal for the club, in a 2-2 match against Betis, a header in which he gave up his body to score, and had to sit there and collect himself afterward, before getting up and continuing with his task of getting in the way.

He is going to Chinese club Dalian Aerbin, following what appears to be the new money trail. He will earn 10m per annumm over a two-year deal, at which point he will probably stroll off into the sunset, richer than Croesus.

It seems fitting that with the departure of Guardiola, the man who he called his moral barometer is leaving as well, even if I’m cranky as Hell for how he is leaving, which is on a free. I’m happy for him, but he’s also a valuable player, released from his contract by activating a clause within it that says he can leave on a free if he didn’t get time in 50% of matches last season. There were talks with Vilanova, and rumors that Keita had agreed to continue as if he had received the requisite number of minutes, etc, etc. When the rumors first broke, they were denied by his hew Chinese club, but they came from too many reputable sources for us to be fully convinced. So there we are.

If the club, which offered Keita a last-minute, half-assed renewal, gets anything from the departure, it will be pittance, because free transfers are kinda that. Bad business? A presumption that a player would do something different? Who knows. All we know right now is that dude is gone, and the midfield is a little weaker. We’re also losing a box crasher, a guy with a howitzer of a long shot who was unafraid to use it and a physical presence in the box. It should also be noted that the next time the African Cup of Nations rolls around, the club will be unaffected.

Did he go to chase money? You bet. And who can argue with that, really? He has had glory galore, being part and parcel of the club that has won so much, done so much and captured so many imaginations. Why not get paid. I would suggest that his meetings with Vilanova also left him unconvinced about his value to the Tito Project. So farewell and good luck, Seydou Keita, with your adventure in China. Here’s something fun to remember him by:

We have things to discuss, including your departure, such as:

Where the brothas at?

I noted today on Twitter that if the Keita rumor became reality, there would be no black players in the club’s roster this season, unless Eric Abidal made a miraculous recovery. And certainly, Spaniards who make monkey chants at Dani Alves will argue with me. Nothing extra to that observation, just a bit of oddness for a club that has in its very recent history Thuram, Toure Yaya, Henry, Eto’o, Abidal and Keita, that even started 4 black players, effectively thumbing its proud Catalan nose at those elements who aren’t all that fond of black players. So there we go.

And we replace him with ….

Nobody. Jonathan Dos Santos will probably be most pleased by this news, as he is the player currently on the roster who is most Keitaesque in his abilities. Rangy, smart with the ball, physical and fully capable of getting in the way with the best of them.

And that’s that.