‘The move was a real discovery’ – Ibrahima Konate’s first coach reveals major change that sent him to Liverpool
Ibrahima Konate’s youth coach at Paris FC remembers when the two had a ‘giggle’ during one of the most memorable days they have spent together.
“The story of the Troyes internship that he will tell you, where his best friend Josué wanted to go. jokes Reda Bekhti in an exclusive interview with ECHO. “We had been hard on them during the session and later, when we all went to Joshua’s room, he wasn’t there!
“Finally, we found him with his suitcase at the bus stop in front of the training ground, 200 km from Paris. He thought the bus was going to take him back to Paris!
While the funniest memory of Bekhti from Konate’s squad does not directly concern Ibrahima, the fact that the new £ 36million Liverpool defender responded to his manager’s requests and did not try to do so. a quick release like his boyfriend, perhaps shows how he has become one of the best in Europe. best young center-backs.
Born May 25, 1999 – nine days after Patrik Berger, Karl-Heinz Riedle and Paul Ince scored in the Reds’ season-ending win over Wimbledon at Anfield – Konate was one of eight children born to immigrant parents from the Mali and comes from a ‘very good family, calm and serious,’ says Bekhti.
Growing up in the 11th arrondissement of the French capital, located on the right bank of the Seine, the region is considered one of the most densely populated urban neighborhoods of any city in Europe. It was here, at La Roquette, that Konate enveloped himself in a sea of red flares after unveiling his new number five jersey with the community he grew up in.
It is in these same neighborhoods that Ibrahima, with his six brothers, learned to play football in the streets.
Then, in 2009, he joined Paris FC. Founded in 1969, the club merged with Stade Saint-Germain a year later. However, the team that now exists was formed after their split from Paris Saint-Germain in 1972. Currently playing in Ligue 2 after last playing in the Premier League in 1979, Paris FC have spent much of their time. 52 years of existence in the amateur divisions. .
However, that doesn’t mean the club aren’t producing talent. This is where former Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho played as a child.
Bekhti, meanwhile, turned so many youngsters into professionals during his time at Paris FC, he can boast of his own starting XI and a full bench of players currently appearing in top European leagues.
He has taught Konate’s ex-Leipzig teammate Nordi Mukiele, Leicester new boy Boubakary Soumare and ex-Celtic midfielder Oliver Ntcham. Lyon striker Karl Toko Ekambi, Wolves left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri and Parma Wylan Cyprien also benefited from Bekhti’s tutelage.
However, it is perhaps Konaté who has experienced the strongest progress since his debut with Paris FC.
Bekhti remembers their first meeting when Ibrahima was only 10 years old.
“He was a tall, lanky boy who had sparse technique but made a lot of progress,” he said. “He was a shy, reserved, attentive boy, eager to learn.”
Now standing at 6’4 – “He’s the tallest every time,” Bekhti says as he shares old photos of Konate’s squad with ECHO – the defender is one of the most imposing and most powerful in Europe at his post.
However, he was not always a center-back.
“I had it for two seasons in the Under 12s and the Under 13s,” says Bekhti. “He was a striker at the start but struggled in this position due to a lack of space for a player of his size.
“After a week of training we decided to take it down a notch and put him in midfield against Torcy in an Under-13 Championship game. Immediately, the switch gave him real satisfaction.
“He was very strong in the duels and in the recovery tackle. He had decent defensive intelligence and was decisive one on one. With his athleticism, technical quality and ease on the ball, the movement was a real discovery for all of us.
It was after the change of position that Sochaux came to call, explains Bekhti. Developing at a rapid pace, he was spotted and “signed his contract promptly after testing.”
Konate traveled 300 miles southeast of his home in the capital to join the club’s boarding academy.
“He was mature and ready to take on the challenge of professionalism,” says Bekhti. “It was a big step for him given his progress and he quickly adapted to his new life at the academy.”
As his position changed, so did his heroes.
“Back then Ronaldinho was everyone’s idol but now Ibrahima focuses more on the big defenders.”
At 17, Konate made his first-team debut against Auxerre in the second division and he had only played 13 games for Les Lionceaux (Les Lionceaux), when RB Leipzig moved in June 2017, just weeks after his 18th. anniversary.
“We’ve been watching Ibrahima Konate for quite some time,” sporting director Ralf Rangnick said at the time. “He is a gifted young player who will strengthen our defense. We are very happy to have been able to bring in this high level talent and that Ibrahima can take a new step in his career here.
“He shows great qualities when he is only 18 years old, and we are convinced that he will bring us a lot of joy.”
That’s what he did. Despite a hip injury that kept him from playing for much of the 2019-20 campaign, during his four seasons at Red Bull Arena he helped Leipzig to finish third in consecutive seasons before making a part. of the team that finished second behind champions Bayern Munich last season. Konate has also appeared in both the Europa League and the Champions League, has represented France at the Under-21 level and plays with authority well below his age.
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While Bekhti helped the children develop their skills on the pitch, the coach also ensured that his players also learned to behave off the pitch.
“Always, in the training that we have given, we have helped a lot the players to become what they are today, in terms of personality and character. We have trained good footballers but above all good people and that. is the most important. “
Nicknamed “Ibou” by his mother from an early age, Konate recently told the Bundesliga website that in Leipzig, “boys sometimes laugh at it and call me” Ibuprofen. ” It seems he always liked jokes.
“Ibrahima is an endearing boy who liked silly things in the team and liked to usurp his teammates,” Bekhti recalls. “He was hard-working but very well integrated into the group thanks to his joie de vivre.
“Joie de vivre” is French for “exuberant enjoyment of life” and it is this quote that suggests Konate will prosper under Jurgen Klopp. The pair have already shared a joke on Liverpool’s first day of pre-season training in Salzburg, with the center-back coolly telling his new manager, jokingly, that the laps are “easy”.
Bekhti saw his former protégé join one of the biggest clubs in Europe and believes Konate can flourish more in Merseyside.
“It doesn’t surprise me the path he’s on. Sochaux then Leipzig, where he had two big full seasons with a lot of matches. Today he is at Liverpool and that does not surprise me as he is making constant progress.
“He is a reserved boy, rather shy, but with the force of the circumstances and his maturity, his leadership became natural.
“With a coach like Jurgen Klopp he will improve even more, get stronger and that’s all I wish him. It was a pleasure to take him through the stages (youngsters).
“At Liverpool he can become a top player. He is young, talented, plays in one of the most equipped teams in the world and with Virgil van Dijk by his side he will learn a lot.
The Premier League is a tough and ruthless place, but no one will pack their bags like their childhood friend. With Bekhti’s guidance during his formative years, Konaté will be up to the challenge.
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