Over the last two or three years, Kalidou Koulibaly has become one of the most well-known central defenders in world football. For many, he comes second behind Virgil van Dijk, with clubs constantly linked with the Senegalese every window. Manchester City have always been one of them and it is hardly a surprise.
This season hasn’t been a good one at all for Koulibaly’s Napoli. The instability saw them refuse a ritiro after a Champions League game against RB Salzburg, which later made the atmosphere toxic. This led to the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti, with Rino Gattuso now at the helm. The club is now eighth in the Serie A, way below what was being expected of them when the season began.
The instability saw many players underperform. Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis even called out to dock the wages of many players and sell some of them. Koulibaly was one of those, but he has been one of their better players in what was a crisis situation.
He represents a modern-day defender who is good on the ball. But he also is a throw-back- that bruiser who can be adept physically when the need arises. Like Van Dijk, he is that cultured defender who can do just about everything. It is his passing traits that would attract Man City the most.
This season, he has had a passing accuracy of 89 percent, while playing 64.4 passes per game so far. He has a tally of 4.4 long-balls per game- the highest at the club. He is playing 53.1 short passes per game- only behind Fabian Ruiz. The best of all- Koulibaly is yet to be dispossessed even once this season.
Koulibaly likes to often drive forward with the ball. That is an important feature of how he plays. A defender doesn’t always complete 0.6 dribbles per game. But Koulibaly has done that this season.
Under Ancelotti this season, Napoli would often use a 4-4-2 shape. This left their backline exposed because of lack of balance in midfield. Despite the signature of Kostas Manolas from Roma, Napoli could never that assured unit at the back. Amidst all that, Koulibaly never let alone down.
He has won 2.6 tackles per game this season, making 1.1 interceptions per game too. These numbers of his have always been high- a definition of how complete he is as a player. These are qualities that can attract any top club in the world, hence the interest from Man City.
But it isn’t easy enough for anyone to pry Koulibaly away. When Man Utd signed Harry Maguire, De Laurentiis made it clear that Koulibaly won’t be cheap either.
He told ESPN: “He has a clause of £150m. But, for example, in England, they paid £85 million for a player. In Napoli, I would pay £30-£35 million. With that in mind, I think Koulibaly’s value is £250 million if they paid that much for that guy.”
City aren’t a club that is short of money. But their defensive needs have been well-highlighted. With Aymeric Laporte still recovering from an injury, they have let in 24 goals. At this point last season, they had let in only 17 goals. Their inability to replace Vincent Kompany is costing them.
Pep Guardiola hasn’t shown too much keenness to rely on Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones. With defensive recruitment needed, Koulibaly fits right in. And he is the just the type of defender they might want to challenge Liverpool’s authority.