Kalidou Koulibaly, Chelsea’s new signing, has promised he will never let anyone stop him from representing Senegal.
The Senegal captain called for more respect for African nations after the president of his former club Napoli only threatened to sign African players willing to give up international ambitions.
Aurelio De Laurentiis has promised that Napoli will only now sign African players if they are willing to miss the African Cup of Nations, due to the tournament’s clashes with the European league.
Koulibaly has joined Chelsea in a £34m deal from Napoli, becoming part of new owner Todd Boehly’s new Stamford Bridge era.
The 31-year-old insisted he would respect De Laurentiis’ pledge towards African players, but urged European teams to do the same for the African Cup of Nations.
“Nobody ever told me not to go to AFCON or anything like that,” said Koulibaly, who captained Senegal to AFCON glory at the 2022 tournament. “Maybe sometimes they try to ask my manager or something.
“But me, now as Senegal’s captain, when AFCON comes I have to be the first there, the first in Senegal.
“Nobody can tell me not to go to my selection. I have a lot of love for my national team, the team I play for.
“So if someone told me to do this, it would be the only time I could fight someone.
“The way we feel all the time with my national team, we are all respectful, we expect players to come from the Premier League and everyone is happy to be here.
“Everyone thinks the same as me in the national team. If someone told them not to come, they always struggled to come.
“This is the most important thing. Everyone has to respect us.”
Napoli boss De Laurentiis this week lamented the time African players spend away from the Italian season competing in tournaments like AFCON.
“We are the idiots who pay wages just to send them around the world playing for others,” he said.
When asked about his former club president’s opinion, Koulibaly said: “It’s up to him if he wants to say it.
“But for me the most important thing is to respect everyone.
“When I played there, I was also playing for Senegal. I won AFCON when I was playing for Senegal for Napoli.
“It’s true that it’s difficult for them, but I think you have to respect the national team too.
“You have to have respect as you have for the European teams.
“As Senegal’s captain it’s not a good way to talk about African nationality, but I respect what he thinks.
“If he thinks that, it’s up to him, but I don’t think everyone has the same idea as him at the club. Fans don’t think so.
“It depends on him, it’s not an idea of society or the city, the city respects everything.
“This world is what he thinks, not what the team thinks or what the city thinks.”
Chelsea have been following Koulibaly since 2015, finally getting their man this summer.
The Senegal captain will help bolster the Blues’ defense after the departures of Toni Rudiger and Andreas Christensen.
Koulibaly asked John Terry for his blessing to take the former Blues player’s number 26, revealing that he wondered if the number had been retired at Stamford Bridge.
“I wanted to know which number was toll free, they sent me some numbers and they didn’t send me 26,” Koulibaly said.
“I asked for 26, and they said John left in 2017 and no one has accepted since.
“So I kept asking myself: ‘is it retired or does anyone want to take it?’.
“So I asked Gianfranco Zola, because I know him very well and I have asked a lot of questions.
“I asked him for John’s phone number because I wanted to ask him about the shirt.
“I called John and at first he didn’t believe it was me, he thought it was a joke. So he called the team manager to ask if it was really me.
“I know it’s a very important number for John, but it’s also a very important number for me, because I won at Napoli.
“And when he said yes, I was very happy because I know what he has done for the club and the fans here.
“He gave me his answer and I was happy so I wanted to tell everyone I asked him before because I didn’t want to disrespect a club legend.”