Salif Keïta Traoré (6 December 1946 – 2 September 2023), known as Keita, was a celebrated Malian footballer renowned for his role as a striker in the world of football. He was notably the first recipient of the African Footballer of the Year award in 1970, earning him the nickname ‘Black Panther’.
Salif Keïta Traoré was born in Bamako, Mali, where he began his club career playing for AS Real Bamako and Stade Malien within his home country. His tenure with AS Real Bamako, across two separate periods, saw him consistently securing the Première Division championship.
In 1967, at the age of 20, Keita made a significant move to France to join AS Saint-Étienne. During his time with the club, he achieved remarkable success, clinching three consecutive Ligue 1 titles, including a memorable double in 1968 and 1970. Over his last two seasons with Les Verts combined, he astonished with an impressive tally of 71 league goals, with 42 goals in the 1970–71 campaign. Despite his remarkable performance, the team fell short of winning any silverware. It was in 1970 that he was honored with the African Footballer of the Year award.
Keita’s journey took him to various clubs across Europe. He joined Olympique de Marseille in 1972 but moved on to Valencia CF in Spain, despite some controversial headlines marked by racism. Keita’s time at Valencia was marked by a strong bond with the fans, earning him the endearing nickname “La perla negra de Malí” (The black pearl of Mali). After a stint at Valencia, he proceeded to play for Sporting Clube de Portugal and concluded his football career after a brief period with the New England Tea Men in the United States.
Keita’s talent extended to the international stage as well. At the young age of 16, he was selected to play for the national team of Mali in 1963. He played a pivotal role in the squad that participated in the 1972 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, ultimately securing a commendable second-place finish for Mali.
Personal Life and Legacy
Salif Keïta’s influence on football extended beyond the pitch. He ventured into the administrative side of the game and was elected as the president of the Malian Football Federation in June 2005. Additionally, he was recognized by the Confederation of African Football as one of the best 200 African football players of the last 50 years in the year following his presidency.
Keita’s family carried on his football legacy. Notably, his nephew Seydou Keita made a name for himself in the world of football, playing for esteemed clubs like FC Barcelona. He was also influential in setting up the first training center for professional football players in Mali, which bore his name.
Salif Keïta passed away on 2 September 2023, leaving behind a remarkable legacy in the world of football. He will forever be remembered and celebrated for his outstanding contributions to the sport both on and off the field.