After completing his £6.5million move from Genk to Napoli in the summer of 2014, Kalidou Koulibaly has gone on to forming an incredible reputation about himself as one of the best centre-backs in Italy and Europe. And it’s only taken the Senegal defender a couple of years or so to achieve this delightful result.
The 27-year-old is now reportedly being linked with a move to a few Premier League sides in Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, with the expected price tag being a figure around £100million. However, the local and reliable reports in Naples suggest that the defender is very happy in Serie A at the moment.
Former AC Milan player and Croatia midfielder, Zvonimir Boban, was full of praises towards the rise of Koulibaly within his early years at the club. “For me, he’s among the best in the world and he can still improve,” the Sky Italia pundit had revealed. “He’s matured in everything; character, technique, he now comes out with the ball in such an impeccable way and is always physically dominant.”
Meanwhile, Italian football expert James Horncastle a few seasons ago, called him the new Lillian Thuram due to his aesthetically pleasing style of play and attitude on and off the pitch. The 1990s footballing legend, was the one and only idol and role model for Koulibaly, especially during his days as a youngster and that he has always wanted to achieve a similar career path to the French international since then.
Born in Saint-Die-des-Vosges, he started his senior footballing career off at French side Metz, where he spent two years within the Ligue 2 division before moving abroad to Belgium to play in the Belgian Pro League. At the time, he took part in playing for the U20 France national team and made 11 appearances at that level as he was educated and raised in the North East of France.
At Genk, the young defender was given the chance to prove himself at a club that are well known for their history of scouting and developing talented players before they are sold off to bigger teams. This was the unbelievable result for the previous individuals in Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Christian Benteke, with Koulibaly going on to join this list of players after he had joined Napoli in 2014.
Koulibaly’s dreams came true during the 2014-15 campaign as he achieved just over 25 league appearances in his debut season for Napoli. However, manager Rafael Benitez experienced an unexpected outcome with his team being defensively awful despite improving on the other side of the pitch by being clinical and ruthless on the counter-attack. Due to the side’s lack of organisation and communication in defence, it took the raw centre-back quite some time for him to settle into the team.
One year on, everything was much different for Napoli, with the club making a managerial change of replacing Benitez with Maurizio Sarri, someone who made sure that Koulibaly was in the starting line-up on a weekly basis. He only missed five league games throughout that campaign as Napoli mounted a competitive challenge to Juventus. On top of that, he finished the season as one of the most improved players within the top five leagues of Europe, which allowed him to gain more awareness as a defender.
Throughout the 2016-17 season as a while, Koulibaly completed the fourth most short passes whilst compared to all defenders in Serie A despite making fewer appearances than the likes of Davide Astori, Matias Silvestre and team-mate Elseid Hysaj. Given the entertaining and fascinating style of play that Napoli used to represent under Sarri, this is surely an incredible statistic as there is no margin for error, otherwise the opposition can pounce on highline and score constantly from the counter-attack.
Now, in 2019 and playing under Carlo Ancelotti, he still remains as Napoli’s best defender as well as one of the best centre-backs within the league. Although the change of formation and the slight change of the system when the side act on and off the ball, the Senegalese international amazingly completes his day to day job whilst constantly covering the left-back area when Mario Rui or Faouzi Ghoulam are out of position.
Standing at six foot five inches tall, Koulibaly is known for his physical attribute as well as his imposing height to win aerial duels on both sides of the pitch. After the arrival of Sarri, the rise of ‘K2’ was taken to the next level as his positioning and excellent passing with both feet got better and better. Also, he now sticks very close to his opponent rather than leaving them completely free for most of the game which prevents him from being forced into making a foul and receiving a booking.
In the meantime for his country, the 27-year-old was given his debut for Senegal during his second season as a Napoli player. Making his first appearance in a 2-0 victory over Namibia in an African Cup of Nation qualifier in September 2015, he has gone on to achieving just over 30 caps for his national team. Just a few days before he made his debut, Koulibaly switched federations and decided to leave France for the Senegal national football team. At the end of 2016, he received an individual honour of making it into the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Team of the Year award.
Whether he stays at Napoli for the rest of his career is another question, however, it would not be a surprise if the Senegalese one day ends up playing for either Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid. No matter what is in store for Koulibaly from now till the end of his time as a footballer, he will definitely be seen as one of the most complete centre-backs in this era.