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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2019 players: Kalidou Koulibaly - The Rise Of Series

18:40 IST 16/06/2019
Kalidou Koulibaly Chievo Napoli Serie A
The Serie A’s best defender looks to make his mark on the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon)

The 'Afcon Rise of' Series is a collaborative initiative between Goal and 3 Kilo  featuring up-and-coming writers. 3 Kilo is a development agency that creates opportunities and skills development projects for the youth of South Africa.

Napoli centre back Kalidou Koulibaly will be looking to help Senegal end the long wait for their maiden Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) title at the 2019 edition to be held in Egypt.   

The 1,87m tall defender stood above many in the Serie A with his astute reading of the game - which eventually saw him earn the defender of the year gong in the Italian top tier for the 2018/19 campaign.

  Kalidou Koulibaly's early life  

Koulibaly's family moved to France from Senegal when he was still just a little boy. He would turn out to be a massively talented player. Koulibaly began playing football in 1998 for Sporting Reunis Saint-Die (SR Saint-Die) at the age of eight, while still excelling as a student.  

Early in his youth career, Koulibaly endured a period of uncertainty regarding his career as he was in-and-out of both Metz and Sporting Reunis Saint-Die youth structures. He initially, and briefly, got a chance to make his bow with Metz's juniors.




 Kalidou Koulibaly' s club career  

Metz would initially spot the potential in the towering defender and offer him his first professional contract.  He debuted for Les Grenats in August 2010 and went on to help Metz gain promotion from the Championnat National, the French Third Tier to Ligue 2 that year, with Koulibaly playing a pivotal role with his 15 appearances.

With his progress at Metz, Genk came calling for his signature and Koulibaly took the opportunity to go play top tier football in Belgium as a 23-year-old in 2012. He would go on to establish himself as one of the finest defenders in the Belgian league. Making a joint 37 appearances across all fronts in his maiden season also helped Genk clinch the Belgian Cup.  

With his rise, potential and early promise, it was always going to be that a big club would come in to sweep him up and so did Napoli in 2014.   

At Napoli, under Carlo Ancelotti's guidance, the now 27-year-old defender looked to be struggling. He appeared out of place, often caught out of position and appeared to lack either the tactical discipline or concentration necessary to succeed in Serie A. It appeared he wasn't destined for a long stay in Italy. But a change in coaching personal created a change in fortune for the Senegalese defender. 

Under Maurizio Sarri, Koulibaly, who possesses a superb blend of aggression, authority, intelligence and on-the-ball ability as part of his impressive armoury, underwent an evolution. His short bursts of speed - beyond pressing opponents - saw him develop a rare quality to meet the demands of a modern centre back who is often able to drive Napoli into attacking phases with ease.

While racking over 150 appearances and scoring 10 goals in the Serie A, Koulibaly has grown to become one of the finest and most sought after defenders in world football. 

Performances like these have seen him on the summer transfer list for plenty of Europe’s top clubs such as Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal



Kalidou Koulibaly's international career

With the help of his wife Charline, Koulibaly made the choice to represent the Lions of Teranga at international level. 

This was after the call-up to France's senior team did not come.

"I waited for a long time for a call-up for Les Bleus, but that call never came."

When he eventually got a call from Senegal coach Aliou Cisse in September 2015, he took the opportunity to represent his country of origin and has no regrets. 

He now awaits the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations to help the “Lions of Teranga”, who have been drawn against Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania in Group C. 

The supporters of Senegal will look forward to seeing a giant of a defender to stand tall for their team and hopefully help Senegal to their first title.