Salif Keita: The Black Panther that terrified Europe
November 1967. At the Orly airport, Salif Keita arrives France clandestinely, climbs on a taxi and asks the driver to take him to the « Geoffroy Guichard stadium at Saint-Etienne ». Just from Bamako, the striker already dreams of conquering Europe after a more than satisfactory career in Africa. After negotiations that led to the signing of a professional contract, the young Malian striker had just arrived in the North of France and was convinced that the club will pay his transport fare for the 600km distance. ASSE agreed and this first investment paid off as the Bamako native repaid their faith in him. After scoring 120 goals in 149 matches, Salif amassed several titles like his “silver boot” after scoring 42 goals in one season, or his three French league titles with Les Verts. A real cob legend in the North, AS Saint Etienne as from 1968 adopted the symbol of a black panther as its emblem. A panther which is still found amongst the numerous Saint Etienne supporters today.
After bagging a hat trick of league titles with AS Bamako, and later another hat trick in France with Saint Etienne, the youngest Malian international (at the age of 15) received the African Player of the Year Award in 1970. Two years later, following a misunderstanding with club officials of Saint Etienne, Keita switched to their bitter rivals Olympic Marseille. He spent only one season there, after deciding to try his luck abroad and refusing to accept the French nationality imposed on him by Marseille. He donned the colours of Spanish side Valencia CF for three seasons; netting 34 times in 76 appearances. He later spent another three seasons at Portuguese side Sporting CP where he notched home 67 goals in 43 appearance. During the final days of his career, the Black Panther decided to export his talent to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and signed a one year contract with New England (Boston) where he equally acquired a degree in management.
After his career, he embraced a new political life, and was appointed Malian minister delegate at the Prime Minister’s office. Not really inspired by his new life, Keita decided to run his own hotel “Le Mandé”, across the Niger River. But his love for football did not die down so Salif decided to use his experience to help young Malian footballers to develop on their own. Thus the Salif Keita foundation was created, through which several present Malian international have passed. If Keita is not taking charge of his youngsters in Bamako, he is helping CAF organize the 23rd edition of the CAN in Mali.