This summer is not the first time that Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibally has been the subject of fierce interest during the transfer window. So far, owner Aurelio De Laurentiis has dug in his heels in order to keep his star centreback, however it’s clear that he will not be able to do so forever.
Classed as one of the very best defenders in world football, the 28-year-old Senegal international has been courted by the likes of Juventus, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. This is not really a surprise when you consider his ability on the ball in conjunction with positional awareness, ability in the air and accuracy in the tackle, but such qualities come at a price.
Reports in the English press suggest that United have already seen an £84 million bid rejected, with the often controversial De Laurentiis said to be holding out for at least £135 million. That has left the player himself uncertain about his future. “I don’t know,” admitted Koulibaly when questioned by Goal over whether he would be staying put. “I think so but I have to play the AFCON and then after that I’ll go back to Napoli.”
Meanwhile, the Partenopei have almost completed the signing of AS Roma defender Kostas Manolas for €18 million plus midfielder Amadou Diawara in a deal that is worth €36 million on the club’s books. It remains to be seen whether the Greek international will be a replacement for Raul Albiol or whether he is the new star in the backline in anticipation of a departure for Koulibaly.
Whatever the future holds for this highly coveted player, his team will be very fortunate to have a player in the squad who is as emotionally mature as he is talented on the pitch. In a recent interview with The Players’ Tribune, Koulibaly discussed the racism he suffered in Italy last season, and gave an inspired account of what he thinks about the subject.
“Why do they do this?,” the interview, named “We are all Brothers” read. “Because I am black? Is it not normal to be a black guy in this world?”
“You are just playing the game you love, like you have done a thousand times before. You feel hurt. You feel insulted. Honestly, it gets to a point where you feel practically ashamed of yourself.”
“At the final whistle, I was walking to the tunnel, and I was very, very angry. But then I remembered something important. Before the match, there was a little mascot boy who walked with me to the pitch, holding my hand. He asked if he could have my jersey. I promised that I would give it to him after the match.
“So I turned around and went looking for him. I found him in the stands and gave him my shirt. And guess what’s the first thing he said to me?
“I am very sorry for what happened.”
“This really affected me a lot. This little guy was apologizing for I don’t know how many grown men. And this was the first thing he thinks about — how I was feeling.
I told him, “It doesn’t matter. Thank you. Ciao.”
“This is the spirit of a child. This is what we are missing in the world right now.”
This kind of ambassadorial role is not something that many players are willing to take on. Yet with his inspiring words, Koulibaly has shone much brighter than he could ever do just by playing the game and keeping quiet about the problems he has experienced.
Whether it is on the pitch or off it, and whether he will be in Serie A or the Premier League next term, Kalidou Koulibaly is an example for all of us to follow.