Last month Liverpool announced the signing of center-back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig after triggering his £36 million release clause.
After building a stellar reputation in the back line of the German club during the past four Bundesliga seasons, the French international is set to begin his long-term contract from July 1, subject to international clearance and work permit.
The 22-year-old celebrated his transfer to Anfield in a viral video of him letting off a red flare while listening to the famous ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ song with a flag of Liverpool pictured in his house.
“I’m really happy to be joining such a massive club like Liverpool,” Konate said. “It’s a really exciting moment for me and my family and I am really looking forward to meeting my new team-mates, the staff and getting started on this new chapter.”
The French center-back, who is currently representing his country at the UEFA U-21 European Championship, says he is delighted to be part of the Reds. He said, “Right now, my focus is on the U21 European Championships with France, but after this competition I know I will be joining one of the best teams in the world and that gives me a great feeling. I have worked very hard for many years to get to this point, but I would like to say a big thank you to everyone at RB Leipzig and all the people I worked with there - the coaches, my team-mates, the staff and especially the fans. Your support helped me grow up during my time there and become not only a better player, but a better man and I will always be grateful for it.”
Konate was born in Paris, and began his career at local club Paris FC where he spent five years in their academy before ending up at Sochaux in 2014.
Although as a youngster he started off playing striker, his career didn’t really take off until he was converted to a center-back during a three-year spell on the east side of the country with FC Sochaux.
In January 2017, he made his debut appearance at just 17 years of age in Coupe de la Ligue against Monaco that ended up with a 1-1 draw (with his now-teammate Fabinho on the bench). Konate fit right into the club’s Ligue 2 team, making 11 appearances in that season, and scoring one goal.
Konate’s ascendency saw him begin to attract interest from Europe, and it was RB Leipzig who managed to secure his signature in the 2017 summer transfer window.
Konate — known by the nickname Ibou – delivered a promising debut season for Leipzig alongside current Reds midfielder Naby Keita, and by the 2018-19 season he has cemented himself as a regular in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s lineup. During his second season at the German club, he made 43 appearances in all competitions, and helped Die Roten Bullen reach the DFB-Pokal final and finish third in the Bundesliga.
Unfortunately, due to injuries the Frenchman has managed only 17 appearances since the start of 2019-20 season.
Style of play
Interestingly, Konate did admit that he was not a fan of football till the age of 11, and then it was his brother that motivated him to give the sport a shot. The reason he initially became a striker was to emulate the Brazilian Ronaldo, but the decision of the coaches at Sochaux to play him at the back proved to be genius.
Konate is known to be a leader who prefers to play on the right side of a back four or three. He is particularly skilled at aerial duels. According to Opta, of the 742 defenders to played at least 20 games in Europe’s top-five leagues, only Bruno Alves (81%) has a better aerial duel success rate than Ibrahima Konaté (78%) since the beginning of 2019-20.
“He is a very technical center-back,” says German journalist Raphael Honigstein, who cites Ibrahima’s reading of the game, control of the penalty box, aerial ability, agility and physical presence as further key attributes. “In terms of his development as a player, I think it has been pretty good if you consider the fact that was the first big club he played for, and he has gone from a player that was picked up for free to a player seen as the solution to one of Liverpool’s problems next season. He is just a top, an absolute top player. If it’s true that centre-backs, a little bit like centre-forwards, tend to mature a little bit later – and I guess [Virgil] van Dijk is a very good example of that – then the ceiling is still very, very high for him. I think there’s a lot more he can achieve and he can personally aspire to. So, top buy, in my view.”
Along with his aerial ability, another attribute that will come in handy for Liverpool is the defender’s pace. Although he stands 6’4”, he has enough pace deal with quick forwards. He is also regarded as one of the strongest center-backs in Germany, and he understands how to position himself on the pitch.
After ball recovery he is also composed in possession. The defender plays the ball upfield an average of 213.1 yards for every 90 minutes that he played this season. Only three players in the Bundesliga who played at least as many minutes as he did posted a higher average.
These skills helped him form an impressive partnership with Dayot Upamecano at Leipzig, and Jurgen Klopp will surely hope he can duplicate that success at Anfield.
(In FIFA 21, the defender has an 83 strength rating and a 85 standing tackle, despite having a 78 rating overall with a potential of 87 if anybody is still playing the game.)
As a center-back, it should come as little surprise that Konate’s idol is Real legend and current free agent, Sergio Ramos: “My idol is Sergio Ramos. For me, Sergio is like Vegeta. He always works,” Konate said on UMM’s YouTube channel in February 2021. “Sergio Ramos is Sergio Ramos and he works every time. It’s, for this reason, I like him because he works every time and, for me, he is the best defender in the world today.”
The 22-year-old’s track record of injuries should be a slight concern for Jurgen Klopp. At Sochaux, Konate had to undergo hip surgery that has continued to affected him, with recurrences limiting his appearances over the last two seasons.
Also alarming, he suffered an ankle injury that restricted him to just eight appearances in the 2020-21 season. However, he now appears to be fully recovered. “He has had one serious, big injury and this was the main question: Is he fit for the long-term? Is he the player for the next 10 years?” said RB Leipzig reporter, Guido Schafer, who was early to report that Liverpool’s deal for Konate was completed. “I spoke with his teammates and the doctor from RB Leipzig, and they all told me that he is fit and he has trained for eight or nine months. “The doctor told me he is totally fit and when this was clear, the deal for Klopp was perfect. He is in a good shape for his first training session with his new teammates and it is a dream come true for him.”
It will be interesting to see how Jurgen Klopp manages to adapt his new center-back pairing for next season. Liverpool’s title hopes were badly damaged by the number and length of injuries at center-back, so much so that midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were tapped to deputize.
It’s hard to predict how strong Joe Gomez will be on return from long-term injury, Joel Matip’s future is still uncertain, and the latest appointment, Rhys Williams, is still too young to be a regular. The January arrivals of Ozan Kabak on loan from Schalke and Ben Davies from Preston added depth in to the back line, but these purchases were made as part of a larger long-term plan that included the recruitment of Konate.
While Virgil van Dijk is also returning from a long-term injury absence, the world-class Dutchman is a guaranteed starter for the Reds. The ball is therefore in Ibrahima Konate’s court to showcase his talent and earn the right to start alongside him.
Do you think you will try Ibrahima Konate in your fantasy teams? What do you think of Konate’s £5.5M price tag in FPL? Do you think Konate will become Klopp’s preferred center-back partner with VVD, or do you think he’ll start someone else for the start of the campaign? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!