Football Features

Kalidou Koulibaly signs for Chelsea: Blues finally get their “perfect” man after six years

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 7:19, 16 July 2022

Chelsea have completed their second signing of the Todd Boehly era, picking up Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli.

The Blues have added the captain of the Senegal national team for a fee of £34m. The transfer saga was concluded quickly as Koulibaly flew out to Los Angeles to join the club on their pre-season tour of the USA.

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Koulibaly’s arrival comes hot on the heels of Raheem Sterling joining Chelsea from Manchester City, as Boehly works on assembling a top side for Thomas Tuchel. There will be more arrivals but Koulibaly is perhaps the most significant.

Thomas Tuchel’s system is built around a solid defence and this summer Chelsea lost two of their best defenders for free as Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen left the club at the end of their contracts.

This left the Blues with just one senior centre-back: the wily veteran Thiago Silva. A move for Jules Koundé was scuppered by Barcelona and Juventus asked for too much for Matthijs de Ligt, so focus fell on Koulibaly and a move was concluded swiftly.

Koulibaly joins the Blues and immediately is the best defender at the club; a beacon of organisation and leadership the likes of which Chelsea haven’t seen since John Terry. This could work wonders for the likes of Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr, young defenders who need guidance but also cover, cover Koulibaly can provide in ways Thiago Silva cannot.

Koulibaly is an outrageous defender, dominating opponents since the second he stepped foot on a Serie A pitch with Napoli. Since he joined the Italian side in 2014, he is the outfield player who has completed the most passes, won the most tackles and recovered the most balls.

Part of this is his longevity, but that also speaks to how good he is. Koulibaly is a rock that is always there, hard-wearing and impassable. He will fill Rudiger’s role as a tone-setting enforcer but can also take over Thiago Silva’s role as the defensive organiser and replicate Andreas Christensen’s passing ability as well.

“I’m very happy with him signing and joining our team,” Tuchel told Chelsea’s website.

“He’s now the second signing of the summer and again we have a strong player, a strong personality with big experience. From our point of view, he’s a perfect addition to the group.”

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This transfer is the big move Koulibaly has been threatening to make for years now, and the Senegal centre-back revealed Chelsea first tried to sign him in 2016.

“I’m very happy to be here with this team at Chelsea,” he told the club’s official website.

“It’s a big team in the world and my dream was always to play in the Premier League.

“Chelsea came first to get me in 2016 but we didn’t make it. Now when they came to me I accepted it because they really wanted me to come to the Premier League to play for them. When I spoke to my good friends Edou (Edouard Mendy) and Jorginho they made my choice easier so I’m really happy to be with you today.

“I want to thank the fans because I saw a lot of them in London and on the plane everybody was happy for me to be here. So I want to thank them and I hope the season will be really good and we will give some good moments to the fans.”

2022 turned out to be his year, as he began it by guiding Senegal to win the Africa Cup of Nations and then also qualify for the 2022 World Cup. He will end it by leading his nation out at that World Cup, but he will do so as a Chelsea player.

Koulibaly’s brilliance has been such that back in May of this year when he was first being linked with an exit, Napoli coach Luciano Spaletti spoke out and made it clear how much he valued his Senegalese star: “Koulibaly in my view is not for sale, just like last season when I threatened to chain myself to the gates if he was sold. I’m doing it again!”

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Well, considering he’s just been sold to Chelsea, maybe it’s time for Luciano to grab the chains. But for Chelsea fans getting excited about the signing, former Blues and Napoli boss Rafael Benitez has a word of warning about Koulibaly, despite being one of the best centre-backs in Europe over the past five years or so.

“He must improve his concentration at times,” he told the Athletic.

“He can be guilty of losing focus and can be overconfident, but he has been hugely influential at Napoli and people I know and trust have told me that he has been the best centre-back in Italy during this time.

“This season will be the Premier League for him and he could be fine for the way that Tuchel wants to play. He has similarities with Rudiger — he is very good at running with the ball, he’s good with both feet. Is he a little bit too nice? We will see what happens at Chelsea. As I said, in Italy he was fine because he was so quick, but I doubt he will be so dominant over here.

“Aerial ability wasn’t his biggest strength but in Italy that mattered a bit less and he was ok. It will be interesting to see how that develops in the Premier League but he was always very keen to learn and he spent time with me and my staff after training sessions to work on his heading and improving his technique.”