Throughout his career, Salif Keita was always ahead of the pack. He celebrated his first international cap in 1963, at the tender age of 15. The youngster had already created quite an impression with Real Bamako before he moved to Stade Malien, the country's most famous club. He was as audacious as he was talented, and Saint-Etienne - the biggest team in France at the time - soon came calling. He left Mali under cover of night, landed in Paris and immediately hailed a taxi to take him to Sant Etienne, despite telling no-one at the club that he was on his way, and despite it being a journey of some 500 kilometres.
The taxi fare cost a small fortune and the legendary club in green could well have sent the lad from Mali packing, but they wisely decided to keep him on. Keita scored no fewer than 135 goals in 167 matches for Les Verts, helping them to three league titles and two French Cups and picking up a European golden boot for himself in the process when bagging 42 goals in 1967.
Legendary St Etienne manager Albert Batteux said that he could "do absolutely anything, just like the top Brazilian players can. I've seen him try things that were ‘supernatural.'" The love affair between Keita and Saint-Etienne was such that in 1968, the club adopted a black panther as their emblem to honour their star striker, a figure which has been kept on their badge to this day.
Keita then moved to Marseille where he and Josip Skoblar were the scourge of French defences for one short season before he was tempted further south. Valencia had him for three years, and he spent a similar spell at Sporting Lisbon in Portugal before seeing out the last days of his career in the United States with the now-defunct Boston Tea Men.
He finally returned to Mali in 1986 where he set up the country's first-ever professional football training centre in 1994, and one which bears his name. He was voted in as president of the Mali Football Association in June 2005, but did not win another term when his four years ran out.
Those who saw him on the pitch will forever remember an incredible striker but also a free spirit and one who played a crucial role in helping the best of Africa's talent to establish themselves among the elite of European club football. He is no longer actively involved in the game but his nephew Seydou has kept the Keita name well and truly at the forefront of the sport with outstanding performances both for his country and during his time at Spanish giants Barcelona.
13 games, 11 goals
Participation in the CAF African Cup of Nations with Mali in 1972 (finalist).
1963 - 1964 : Pionniers de Ouolofobougou
1964 - 1966 : Real Bamako
1966 - 1967 : Stade Malien
1967 - 1972 : Saint Etienne
1972 - 1973 : Marseille
1973 - 1976 : Valence
1976 - 1979 : Sporting
1979 - 1980 : New England (USA)
1968, 1969, 1970: France champion
1968, 1970 : French Cup winner
1978, 1979 : Portuguese Cup winner
1967 : Malian Cup winner
1970 : African Player of the Year