December 4, 2023

Napoli's Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly controls the ball during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final second leg football match Napoli vs Arsenal on April 18, 2019 at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)

Written by Hammad

Kalidou Koulibaly has built an incredible reputation as one of the most complete defenders in the game. There are a host of reasons why he is one of the most in-demand centre-backs in Europe right now. The man nicknamed “K2” will bring solidity, enthusiasm and defensive stability to whichever clubs he joins. But, what makes him so special? Why are all of the biggest clubs in Europe after him?

Born on June 20, 1991, Kalidou Koulibaly is currently playing for S.S.C Napoli in Serie A. Even though he is Senegalese, Koulibaly was born and raised in France. The elegant centre-back started his football journey at hometown club Sporting Reunis saint-dié in Lorraine. He moved to cross-town club, Metz in 2009, where Koulibaly’s first-ever senior team appearance came on 20th August 2010. After Metz were relegated to the third division of French football in 2012, Koulibaly signed with Belgium club Genk. This is where this football genius started to turn heads. Among his admirers was Rafa Benitez, who was the Napoli coach at the time. After only two seasons in Belgium, Koulibaly joined Napoli for just £6.5 million, which looks like an absolute bargain right now.

Despite being handpicked by Benitez, Koulibaly struggled at first at the Stadio San Paolo but, everything turned around for him when a certain chain-smoking, former bank manager was appointed as the head coach in Naples. The imposing defender thrived in the possession-based system of Maurizio Sarri. Koulibaly became a complete package – someone who could tackle, block and intercept like an old-fashioned defender but he could also build an attack from the back like a modern centre-back.

Napoli’s then Italian coach Maurizo Sarri (R) talks with Napoli’s Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly during a training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Group F football match SSC Napoli vs Feyenoord Rotterdam at the Napoli’s training centre on September 25, 2017. (Photo by CARLO HERMANN/AFP via Getty Images)

Koulibaly is now one of the classiest defenders in the game, who shows maturity and brilliant technical ability on the ball. Koulibaly’s biggest strengths are his positioning, tackling, composure on the ball, speed and aerial prowess, which is helped by his 6ft 1in frame. The Napoli vice-captain boasts a passing completion percentage of 86 in 21 Serie A and Champions League games this season. As good as Koulibaly’s positioning and awareness are, he loves to make tackles which leads to fouls. He is conceding 1.4 fouls per game in 15 league matches this term. The former Metz man averages 2.4 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, 1.2 blocks and 3.5 clearances per outing for Napoli this season (Stats from whoscored).

To truly appreciate his amazing talents, we must do more than analyzing the stats. Koulibaly not only carries the capacity to make the impossible possible but ensures that the impossible seems like a regular, everyday feat. It is little wonder that football fans and pundits can do little less but marvel at the effortlessly elegant defender. Italian football expert, James Horncastle has described Koulibaly as the new Lilian Thuram, which will be pleasing for the Napoli defender who considers Thuram, a French World Cup-winning defender in 1998, as his only idol.

One of Koulibaly’s most complete performances came in Napoli’s 1-0 win against Juventus in the 2017/18 season. Trailing Juventus in the league, Maurizio Sarri took his side to the home of the champions and came away with the win. This victory which was achieved thanks in-large to the Senegalese defender who not only dominated the match with his defending, (Juve had zero shots on target) but also scored a thumping header from a corner, which brought Napoli to just one point behind Juventus. The Senegalese defender’s current value is 75 million Euros according to Transfermarkt but he will definitely become the most expensive defender in the history of the game when/if he leaves Napoli in the summer. Manchester United, Chelsea, Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City, and Real Madrid have been heavily linked with the imposing defender. All these clubs have the resources to acquire Koulibaly and frankly speaking, all these clubs can do with a commanding centre-back.

Napoli’s Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly celebrates after scoring a goal during the Italian Serie A football match between Juventus and Napoli on April 22, 2018, at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

Koulibaly can fit into every system in world football. With his height and positioning, he can defend against crosses. In an attacking team, Koulibaly has the speed and tackling ability to play in a high defensive line, defend Counter-attacks or to cover the fullbacks, he does this regularly to cover F.Ghulam and Mario Rui at Napoli. Furthermore, the 6ft 1in defender possesses the play-making ability to start attacks from the back or even invite the opposition to press him and he can play through the pressure to create space for the forwards, something that was common at Napoli in the Sarri-Ball era. The Koulibaly investment can be very similar to the way Liverpool bought Virgil van Dijk. Just like Liverpool’s Dutch defender, any major club can build their defense around him. The Senegalese defender normally plays as the left centre-back but he can easily play on the right. Koulibaly will turn 29 in the summer and with the uncertainties at Napoli right now, it’s best for him to move to a club where he can challenge for trophies and leave a legacy as one of the best defenders of his era.


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