There has been a flurry of reports, rumours and speculation about Manchester City’s interest in Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly over the past few days. Since Koulibaly (29), arrived in Naples in 2014 from Belgian side Genk, he has forged a formidable reputation as one of the greatest defenders in the sport.
This has seen the Senegal international linked with pretty much every single major European side over the years, but so far he has remained loyal to Napoli. This was rewarded this season when he helped his side win the Coppa Italia after triumphing on penalties against Juventus.
However, with Pep Guardiola making no secret of the fact that his priority is to sign a centre-back in the approaching transfer window – after a season where Vincent Kompany’s departure and Aymeric Laporte’s injury saw City timidly relinquish its Premier League title – the credible Spanish journalist Jose Alvarez Haya has asserted that it is Napoli’s Koulibaly who tops the club’s wish-list.
Personally, I have admired Koulibaly for years. Whenever I have watched Napoli play he has never failed to make an impression. He reads the game so well, is comfortable with the ball at his feet and plays a role in building attacks. His pace, strength and aerial ability make him well-suited to the intensity of the Premier League. However, I am far from an expert in the Serie A or Napoli. So, I spoke to some people who are!
The crew at @FarFromVesuvius are big fans of the club and run a podcast and website devoted to creating Napoli content for English-speakers. They kindly took the time to answer some questions that will be on the minds of City fans in light of recent reports. We discussed the likelihood of a move, why Koulibaly is attracting attention and how Maurizio Sarri has helped to mould an ideal player for Guardiola’s system.
Firstly, congratulations on the Coppa Italia success! So, there’s been a lot of talk recently about City’s interest in Koulibaly. How likely do you think it is that he leaves Napoli this summer?
Thanks, it’s been a ridiculous season so getting some silverware feels good. I think Koulibaly is probably 50/50 to leave Napoli this summer, but it really depends on the offers the come in. Aurelio De Laurentiis (Napoli’s owner and chairman) said he would not sell him for less than €100m, and usually he does not waver very much.
Yeah, it seems that if Koulibaly does leave it will have to be on the terms of De Laurentiis. Could you tell us about Koulibaly’s popularity at the club and how he is regarded by the Napoli fanbase?
Koulibaly is beloved by the fanbase and his teammates. He’s lived in Naples for nearly 7 years now, and players do tend to grow a serious love and bond to the city. He was made an honorary citizen of the city, and both of his children were born here.
What was Koulibaly like when he arrived from Genk in 2014; did he instantly make an impression or did he take time to prove his qualities?
He was rather unknown when first making the move to Napoli and definitely needed time to adapt. Playing under Rafa Benitez and then Maurizio Sarri definitely helped develop his game into the player he is today.
He has made the Serie A Team of the Year for the past four seasons in a row, a remarkable individual achievement – just how good is he, and why?
He has suffered some injuries this season and hasn’t been at this peak yet, but at his best like we saw over the past 2-3 years he is one of, if not the best, defender on the planet. Koulibaly is great with the ball at his feet and can be used to play out from the back which is why Pep would be so interested in him. He is also great in the air and a real leader at the back.
Do you think City fans should have any concerns about potentially paying so much for a 29 year-old or his ability to adapt to Guardiola’s style?
Well, there will always be concerns spending that kind of money on any one player. However, he is a driven player who has always taken care of himself and doesn’t get distracted by the night life or anything like that. He would be perfect for Guardiola’s system as he played under Sarri in a similar system for three years. It’s that experience that helped make him so good with the ball at his feet. He would do really well at City.
We can all agree that Kouliably is fantastic, but no player is perfect. What would you say are his flaws or weaknesses?
In his early days, decision making and getting caught out was his biggest weakness but Sarri really helped him develop in that regard and now he is a very intelligent player. His thigh injury early on this season definitely hurt his campaign and it remains to be seen what the long term effects are (if at all).
Finally, there has been some speculation about a City player joining Napoli as part of any deal – Joao Cancelo, Angelino and Gabriel Jesus have been mentioned in particular. Do you think that an exchange is likely?
I really liked Cancelo during his time at Inter but De Laurentiis does not do much bargaining and would demand the full fee.
Thanks to the guys at @FarFromVesuvius for taking their time out to provide us with an insight into Kalidou Koulibaly on and off the pitch!
You can follow us on Twitter here: @City_Xtra
You can follow Mark on Twitter here: @MDGough96