Throughout his career, Kalidou Koulibaly had to learn to be patient. Rejected by Metz at age 15 for being “too introverted”, in the words of club academy boss Denis Schaeffer, the imposing centre-back who grew up in northeastern France with Senegalese parents spent two years playing amateur football for Saint-Dié before finally being invited to return to Metz.
More than a decade later and having joined Chelsea last month for £33.8m after eight years with Napoli where he established himself as one of the best defenders in the world, Koulibaly certainly couldn’t be accused of being an introvert in his days. today.
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Fluent in four languages after learning English during his spell at Belgium’s Genk, the 31-year-old insists he “never stopped believing” he could fulfill his childhood dream of playing in the Premier League and makes no secret that his move to Stamford Bridge has been under construction for several years after Antonio Conte first tried to sign him in 2015.
“I spoke to Conte in Rome – he wanted me after my first good year at Napoli,” Koulibaly recalls. “I respectfully asked the owner that he wanted to go to Chelsea but he told me it would not be possible. So I waited a bit and continued my conversation with them, but they really didn’t want me to leave the club, so I decided to renew my contract to stay at Napoli. It was a little difficult for me to say no because it was my dream to play in the Premier League since I was a kid. But I knew that one day it would happen and I’m glad it did. I had to wait and I had a lot of patience.”
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.
“We are the idiots who pay salaries just to send them around the world playing for others,” said De Laurentiis.
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.
“It’s up to him if he meant it,” replied Koulibaly, who captained Senegal to Afcon glory at the 2022 tournament. “But for me the most important thing is to respect everyone.
“When I played there, I also played for Senegal. I won Afcon when I played for Senegal with Napoli. It’s true that it’s difficult for them, but I think you also have to respect the national team. European.
“As Senegal’s captain, it’s not a good way to talk about African nationality, but I respect what he thinks. If he thinks like that, it’s up to him, but I don’t think everyone has the same idea as him at the club. The fans Don’t think like that. It’s up to him, it’s not an idea of society or the city, the city respects everything. This world, it’s what he thinks, not what the team thinks or what the city thinks.” PA Media and Reuters
Liverpool and Manchester City were among the other clubs linked to the man who led Senegal to their first African Cup of Nations triumph this year, in what has become a staple rumor on the transfer merry-go-round. But a four-year deal at Chelsea and the opportunity to play a leading role in Todd Boehly’s new era convinced him it was now or never.
“It’s true that I was close and it could have happened sooner, but I’m happy to sign for Chelsea and continue to play with blue. I’m happy and my home decor is better. For me [the four‑year contract] is proof that they trust me. They know I’m a professional player, I like to take care of my body, everything. I’m grateful to God I haven’t had too many big injuries so they have confidence in me and I know I can give them a few years. Four years or even more, but that will depend on them. I will give them these four years with a lot of energy.”
It remains to be seen whether Chelsea can challenge for the title after a spring and summer of turmoil, although Koulibaly – who won a solitary Coppa Italia at Napoli in 2020 despite regularly vying for the Serie A title – is eyeing trophies. .
“From my personal experience, I know that you don’t have to limit your dream and my dream is to win everything with Chelsea,” he says. “I know it will be difficult. I don’t come with arrogant behavior. I come with respect, a lot of respect for everyone, but I know that Chelsea are a great team and a team that has to win, that is used to winning. I see in the gym all the trophies on the wall that they win, and I want to be a part of those trophies. I haven’t won much in my career and that’s why I come here to win some trophies, some titles and I hope it starts this year.”
Koulibaly is set to become Senegal’s fourth international to play for Chelsea and was congratulated by the first – Demba Ba – when he signed. He was also contacted by Didier Drogba and, to the delight of his longtime Chelsea fan brother Abdoulaye, by Gianfranco Zola. It was thanks to the diminutive Italian, named Chelsea’s greatest player in 2003, that Koulibaly got in touch with John Terry to see if he could take the number 26 shirt – his Napoli number – which hadn’t been worn since the former England captain left in 2017.
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“I asked him for John’s number because I wanted to ask about the shirt,” he says. “He gave me the number directly and I called him. At first he didn’t believe it was me. He thought it was a joke, so he hung up the phone and called the team manager to ask if it was really me.”
Terry eventually convinced himself he was talking to Chelsea’s new signing and footage of Koulibaly talking to him on the phone went viral when posted to Twitter this week.
“It was very important for me to ask him and he gave me his answer. I was happy and wanted to tell everyone I asked him before because I don’t want to disrespect a club legend.”