Kalidou Koulibaly is finally moving to the Premier League after years of ties with a transfer to England, and it’s no coincidence that he’s been courted by clubs here for so long.
A former manager, Carlo Ancelotti, once called Koulibaly one of the best defenders he had ever worked with. High praise from a man who has coached Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos and Chelsea legend John Terry to name just a few.
In eight years at Napoli under Ancelotti and others, he has transformed from a little-known center-back for Genk to one of the best players in the world at his position. No wonder English clubs, well aware of his suitability for the Premier League, have courted him for so long.
Now 31 and in search of a legacy of trophies in the final years of his career, Koulibaly has finally given in to temptation by turning down a new deal in Napoli to move to the Premier League and help Thomas Tuchel rebuild the line-up. Chelsea background. Tuchel’s Blues has been defined by his stoic defense, and he may have found the perfect fit to continue in that vein.
Known interchangeably as “K2”, after the second highest mountain in the world, and “The Wall” by Napoli fans, his defensive stats have not always lived up to his reputation at Napoli and throughout Italy. He was widely touted as the club’s captain after Lorenzo Insigne’s departure earlier this summer, and was even referred to as “defensive prey” in the national press in the days before his move to London.
Giandomenico Costi, assistant to then-Napoli sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli until last year, said sky sports Koulibaly’s arrival had made Chelsea one of the best defenders in the world.
“He’s definitely among the best central defenders,” he said. “He is very strong physically. He is very important in the Premier League, a little different to Italy, and he will fit in perfectly in England.”
“During his time at Napoli, he has been improving every year step by step to get to the level he is today and now he is the complete defender.
“When you play for one of the best teams in the world, you have to be able to defend one-on-one against the best players in case you get caught at half-time, especially with the intensity of the Premier League.” he has all the tools to do it: pace, strength and positioning.
“He’s not the kind of defender who says, ‘Please help me, I’m worried about how to handle this striker.’ He knows he can deal with them. He doesn’t really have any big weaknesses, he has too many good ones.” points for that.”
The player himself spoke about a rude awakening to the demands of Serie A during an early meeting with then-Napoli manager Rafa Benítez shortly after joining the club in 2014.
Coming from the Belgian top flight, where his opponents were far less likely to pressure him into making mistakes, he was told in no uncertain terms to keep it simple at elite level, a lesson he has not forgotten.
“Rafa locked me in a room with the head of video analysis and showed me all my best plays. Sensational passing, dribbling, sliding tackles,” he said. Players’ Tribune.
“It’s hard to translate the next part, but he told me that I got the ball back by my strength and if my opponent had been smarter I would have gotten into trouble.”
“He’s not the kind of defender who says, ‘Please help me, I’m worried about this striker.’ He knows he can deal with them. He doesn’t really have any big weaknesses, he has too many good points for that.” .”
Not all players would take such criticism in stride, but it is commonly accepted that the secret to Koulibaly’s rise stems from his desire to improve.
Even in his 30s and with his global reputation, he will remain eager to impress both Tuchel and his team-mates when he joins Chelsea for their tour of the United States ahead of the new season.
“It will be a pleasure for Tuchel to coach him,” Costi said. “Preach by example. He won’t yell at anyone in the locker room, but he will be a leader by the way he conducts himself on the field.
“He’s a great man too. He’s really embraced the culture at Napoli, he speaks like one of the fans. They’ve come to adore him, as well as being a good defender, he’s shown himself to be a wonderful person during his time there as well.”
Much of the good feeling around Koulibaly’s personality has grown through his philanthropic work. Last summer he spent the closed season in Senegal, where he arranged for a container ship full of medical supplies, medicine and even two ambulances to be chartered from Italy.
He became embedded in the culture of the club and the city, developing such a bond with both that earlier this week manager Luciano Spalletti said the club would “never stop thanking him” if his move to Chelsea went through.
That mutual loyalty has kept him at Napoli longer than many expected, as after eight years in Serie A, he only has one Italian Super Cup and one Coppa Italia medal to prove it. His dream had been to win a trophy in that sky blue jersey, but something had to give.
Last month, Koulibaly turned down the offer of a new deal at Napoli with that desire to win firmly on his mind. At Chelsea, champions of the Champions League a year ago and finalists of the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup in 2022, they have certainly given themselves an opportunity.
Although he arrives at Stamford Bridge in his 30s, his determination and professionalism may give him more time to realize those dreams than his age would suggest, and may also explain what inspired the Blues to part with over £30m for a player supposedly in his twilight years, and also entering the final 12 months of his contract.
“I think it can continue for another five or six years,” Costi said. “It’s easy for him. He’s incredibly disciplined: Kalidou doesn’t eat anything bad, he doesn’t drink anything bad, he goes to bed early.”
The chaos surrounding Roman Abramovich’s acrimonious departure earlier this year threatened to overshadow Chelsea’s summer business, but now it looks a long way off with Raheem Sterling and Koulibaly through the door and more innings to follow in the future. near.
If Tuchel was having sleepless nights at the start of the summer, he might as well be sleeping as soundly as his new centre-back now that the Blues’ rebuilding work is now well underway three weeks before the new campaign.
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