For Napoli fans around the world, Kalidou Koulibaly represented stability, excitement and a sense of calm. When he was in the line-up, no matter who the opponent was you knew you stood a chance because you had the best centre back in the world to nullify the best players on the other team.
However, this wasn’t the case at the start of his legendary Napoli career. When he arrived from Genk at the tender age of 23, Koulibaly struggled to get into Rafa Benitez’s team and when he did play, his eagerness to win the ball appeared rash. Maybe taking a gamble on a unproven young African centre back wasn’t such a good idea after all.
In came tactician Maurizio Sarri. Koulibaly was raw, he had incredible physical traits, he appeared calm on the ball and his distribution of the ball was brilliant. With the help of the experienced Raul Albiol beside him and the ball playing Pepe Reina in goal, Sarri was able to develop Koulibaly tactically, allowing him to express himself freely while being aware of his surroundings to limit mistakes.
Sarri had managed to bring the best out of Kouliably and he never looked back. No matter who came in as coach or whether he went off to play for Senegal, Koulibaly was a seasoned player that would be the most dominant player on any football pitch he stepped on.
Most players wilt under the bright lights of the Champions League or international tournaments. Not Kalidou Koulibaly. He seemed to play his best football in the biggest games, when his team needed him the most they knew that he would come up big. Whether it be a last-ditch tackle, a goal-line clearance or even a goal late in a game, one way or another Kalidou Koulibaly would be there to impact the game in his team’s favour.
On the field, there is nothing negative that can be said about Kalidou Koulibaly, arguably the best defender in the world for the last few years, but it was his off-the-field personality that won the hearts of many around the world.
His loyalty to his club, the way he handled the racist chants all over Italy, the manner in which he carried himself and his overall kindness within the community, spending time with the homeless and feeding them once a month. These were just a few things that Napoli fans adored about Koulibaly.
The fans loved him so much that following a game where he was racially abused, the entire fan base came to the next home game with a picture of Koulibaly’s face which read “Siamo Tutti Koulibaly’ (we are all Koulibaly). He wasn’t just a world-class centre-back, but a world-class human and that is what Napoli fans will miss the most. Their leader on and off the pitch.
If it wasn’t running side by side with Mbappe and dispossessing him in the most beautiful way or scoring the winning goal against bitter rivals Juventus, Koulibaly would be quietly going about his business rarely having a bad game. His loyalty to Napoli was the reason he wasn’t regarded as highly as he should be when being compared to the best defenders of our generation.
In a summer that Napoli are losing so many key players including captain Lorenzo Insigne, goalkeeper David Ospina and possibly all-time leading scorer Dries Mertens, it is the loss of Koulibaly that will hurt the most because of his impact on this team.
In what could turn out to be the signings of the summer, Chelsea are getting a player who is still very much in his prime and has at least 3 or 4 world-class years ahead of him. Adapting to the Premier League won’t be an issue for a player of this calibre. There is no doubt that he will hit the ground running and have a significant impact for Chelsea almost instantly.
Koulibaly comes in as arguably the best centre back Chelsea have since the great John Terry. His ability to play with both feet will be an advantage for Chelsea. Barring any injury, Kalidou Koulibaly will be giving Virgil Van Dijk a run for his money at the top of the centre back pecking order.
By: Mohamed Salad / @SaladNFL
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Chelsea FC