Mali paid a final, moving tribute in Bamako on Wednesday to African football legend and “monument man” Salif Keita who died at the weekend at the age of 76.
Hundreds of people, including former teammates and Mali Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga, flocked to his funeral at the Place du Cinquantenaire, on the banks of the Niger River.
There they said goodbye to the man who in 1970 became the first winner of the African Ballon d’Or.
“He gave everything to Mali — as a player, coach, minister. His football academy produced geniuses for Mali,” said Idrissa Maïga, a friend and former club and national teammate. “Go in peace.”
Keita made his debut for Mali at just 16 and went on to play 28 times for his country. He was part of the Mali squad which finished second in the 1972 African Cup of Nations.
Giant pictures of him were posted and his remains were draped in the green, yellow and red flag of the country.
Delegations came from neighbouring Senegal, Ivory Coast and Guinea as well as from France where Keita played for Saint-Etienne and Marseille.
“Salif Keita is a monument, he took nothing lightly, and each Mali-Guinea match was a challenge for him,” said former Guinea international Cherif Souleymane.
Keita retired in 1980 after a succesful club career in France. While at Saint-Etienne he won the French league title three times and French Cup twice.
“The Black Panther has left us, taking a part of our club with him,” Saint-Etienne said in a statement on social media.
After leaving Saint-Etienne, Keita joined Marseille and then moved to Valencia in Spain, Sporting Lisbon in Portugal before ending his club career with New England Tea Men in the United States.
He also appeared in a movie, loosely inspired by his story, which was released in 1994.