With a strong spiritual grounding and a fervent belief in his duties as a player, RC Lens's Seydou Keita is ready to take on Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Thursday.
A devout Muslim, the Malian international midfielder has already seen his faith work wonders in what was the most thrilling Ligue 1 game of the season. Three-nil down at home to AS Saint-Etienne on 28 January, Lens looked to be finished until a Keita header got them back into contention with 25 minutes remaining.
'God is great'
Keita recalled: "At that precise moment, I said to [team-mate and countryman] Adama Coulibaly: 'God is great. We'll come back.'" He was right. Keita scored the equaliser in added time to make it 3-3 and continue Lens's excellent Ligue 1 form under coach Francis Gillot. Religion is clearly important to Keita. "I pray a lot before games - for me, my team-mates and my opponents. I pray for everything to go well and for no injuries at the end of the night." However, it is for his complete dedication that the anchorman is a Lens hero.
Since arriving from FC Lorient in 2002, Keita has been a firm favourite with fans. As the French phrase goes, he is one of those players that "mouillent le maillot" (sweat for the shirt). For the 27-year-old, work-rate is a point of principle. "I know that the people in the stands suffer to survive in their everyday jobs," he said. "Football gave me a lot but I have not forgotten that my family and me have been through the same in the past. I feel close to the fans in that sense and my duty is not to disappoint them."
Lens have disappointed few this term, holding second spot in Ligue 1 and battling through to the UEFA Cup Round of 16. For Keita, nephew of former AS Monaco FC forward Salif Keita, the only letdown is that he is not competing in the UEFA Champions League like his cousin, LOSC Lille Métropole winger Kader Keita. "I have a lot of friends involved in the UEFA Champions League and I'm a bit sad when I go home and watch the games on TV on Tuesdays and Wednesdays," he said. "But the UEFA Cup is a competition we can win and we would be the first French side to do so. That would be great."
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