For the last few transfer windows, Kalidou Koulibaly ’s name has been linked to some of Europe’s major clubs...and it’s easy to see why.
Accomplished young centre-backs who have the quality to play at an elite level are hard to find, and after improving significantly over the last three seasons in Serie A, the Senegal international appears ripe for a move over the coming months.
The story of last season
Napoli were Serie A’s great entertainers last season, scoring a league-high 94 goals—17 more than champions Juventus—although their attacking prowess occasionally took the attention away from a very strong defensive unit.
The Partenopei’s sturdy work at the back was often the bedrock upon which victories were secured, and Koulibaly, at the heart of the backline, was central to that success.
The 26-year-old was in the top 20 in the division for interceptions-per-match, while his aerial dominance also proved critical in several Napoli shutouts.
A pass success rate of 89.4% places him just outside the Italian top flight’s top 10—an admirable achievement—while only three players in the league averaged more passes per match than the defender.
He clearly has the faith of Maurizio Sarri to build attacks from the back, and few centre-backs in Europe’s major leagues—let alone Africans—can compete with these numbers.
What could happen this window?
Once upon a time, Koulibaly was linked to the likes of Everton, Southampton and Norwich City, but he’s been attracting a higher calibre of suitor in recent windows.
Even until this weekend, Chelsea were hotly tipped to be the defender’s destination, and indeed, he’d have been an ideal long-term replacement for the departed John Terry.
However, with the reigning Premier League champions having just parted with £29 million in order to bring Antonio Rudiger to Stamford Bridge, it’s hard to see them splashing out a similar fee to recruit another centre-back.
Favourites for his signature now would appear to be Liverpool, where the prospect of an all-African ball-playing centre-back duo alongside Joel Matip would surely help the Reds overcome some of the defensive frailties they endured last term.
The defender’s agent has been candid about his willingness to talk to major clubs, and with Chelsea now apparently out of the running, Jurgen Klopp would be wise to get on the phone.
Before signing Eric Bailly, Manchester United were also linked to the defender, while it’s perhaps Arsenal—named as suitors last summer—who have the most pressing need for an imposing, aggressive ball-playing centre-back.
What to expect next season
On the field, expect another season of progression from K2 as he enters his prime years.
Quite where that will be, remains to be seen.
Chelsea, would-be favourites for his signature, may have just taken themselves out of the market, so Liverpool look to be in pole position to secure the defender’s signature.
Reportedly, the Reds have already had a €41 million offer for the centre-back rejected by Napoli, but will they return with a steeper offer before the window shuts?
At international level, Koulibaly will be hoping the season ends with a maiden World Cup appearance. Senegal currently sit third in Group D after two matches, but still have to host the two sides above them—South Africa and Burkina Faso.