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ESPN FC  By ESPN

Liverpool's Naby Keita always wanted to be Steven Gerrard as a kid

Shaka Hislop explains why a text from former teammate Fabinho would never be a deciding factor if Kylian Mbappe decided to join Liverpool.
Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol jumps to the defence of Jurgen Klopp for his recent big-money additions in spite of his past comments.

Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita is a great admirer of Steven Gerrard and said he always tried to play like him growing up in the streets of Guinea.

Keita will wear Gerrard's old No. 8 shirt this season after joining the club from RB Leipzig for £54 million this summer. The 23-year-old was even accompanied by the current Rangers coach at his Liverpool unveiling, and he told reporters on Friday that his Anfield dreams go far back.

Keita said: "[My father] has spoken to me loads since I signed for Liverpool about how much he loved them. As a kid, we used to play wearing a Liverpool shirt in the streets. He had that love of Liverpool then.

"Because I'm a midfielder and Gerrard was always the boss of the side, it couldn't be anyone else other than Steven Gerrard -- that's who you'd be when you were playing, wanting to be like him."

Keita called the presentation by Gerrard a "shock" but promised he won't let the weight of the No. 8 bring him down.

"It was a big shock. Steven said: 'Everyone's going to be here for you, to help you develop.'

"I'm aware it's a big number here and I'm very excited to wear it. But it's also something I'm not going to put any extra pressure on myself with."

A skillful player who also admires former Barcelona stars Andres Iniesta and Deco, Keita stressed the need to be stuck in as a midfielder while recounting his qualities as a player.

"I'm someone who has this real winning mentality. I have a huge desire to win," he said.

"That's why I'm aggressive in a positive sense on the field."

Barcelona and Bayern Munich were both linked with Keita, but he could not turn down the chance to play for Liverpool and work under coach Jurgen Klopp.

"It's true there were other teams involved like the ones you mention but a big part of my decision was the role of the coach," he said. "We had good conversations. The words he spoke to me about this project really convinced me. I could see how the club was developing and I spoke at length with Sadio [Mane].

"Sadio is like a brother to me. We had nine months together at Salzburg and built up a good rapport. We have been great friends since that time. He told me what a great club this was and how the team was progressing and had great potential."

He confirmed that he's watched the Premier League and hopes to "get up to speed" through preseason friendlies. And he doesn't believe the physicality of the league will be a problem for him.

He said: "I don't think that physical aspect is going to have a negative effect on me at all. I've watched a lot of English football and I'm getting used to this kind of physical aspect. [...] Winning the ball back is something I like."

Winning became a habit at Anfield under Klopp last season, but the squad still finished 25 points behind champions Manchester City.

In addition to Keita, the Reds have bolstered their squad with the signings of Brazil internationals Fabinho and Alisson, and Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri. And the former Bundesliga star is confident the Merseyside outfit has the quality to mount a title challenge in the upcoming campaign.

"I know we have enough quality," Keita said.

"It's all about having the mindset and desire to want it and fight for it enough. I think that goes a long way, having that desire and belief."

Another man full of desire and belief is winger Sadio Mane, who chipped in 10 of Liverpool's 84 goals last season.

And for his efforts, Liverpool announced on Friday the Senegal international would wear the No. 10 shirt, which was last used by Philippe Coutinho before joining Barcelona in January.

Mane had worn No. 19 since joining the club from Southampton in 2016.

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