Kalidou Koulibaly aiming to repay six-year chase with silverware as £33m star prepares for Chelsea debut

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·3-min read
Kalidou Koulibaly aiming to repay six-year chase with silverware as £33m star prepares for Chelsea debut
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“Ready to win trophies, bro?” Reece James called to Chelsea’s latest signing Kalidou Koulibaly last week as he joined the club’s US tour in Las Vegas. “For sure, yes bro, 100 per cent,” the new £33million defender barked back without delay to his new team-mate.

Now in his new side’s Orlando training camp, the former Napoli man is ready to make his debut against Arsenal in the Florida Cup tomorrow night. Significant honours will have to wait.

Chelsea have landed a player who they have wanted for six years. Antonio Conte was the first to try, and Thomas Tuchel has finally brought in the Senegal international known as one of the best centre-halves in the world.

He is regarded as a legend at Napoli, crowned the best defender in Serie A alongside getting in the team of the year in four of his eight seasons at the club.

Since his debut for Napoli in 2014-15, he won more tackles (344) and made the most successful passes (14,528) in Serie A. He was part of a clean sheet in every three matches in Naples.

Those are remarkable records for a player who struggled to make the grade as a youth player at Metz in France. Eventually, he forced his way into the team and later moved to Genk. He then arrived at Napoli but, for all his quality, he won just two domestic trophies in Italy. He did, however, win an Africa Cup of Nations trophy with Senegal in January alongside Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. His arrival at Chelsea could end his wait for success at club level, and his former Napoli team-mate Jorginho admits he had been trying for a while to get his friend to join him in west London.

“We spoke a lot about it,” Jorginho said. “Even before I came here Chelsea were interested in him and finally now it’s happened, so it’s really good.”

Koulibaly admits he cannot wait to be reunited with Jorginho and Mendy.

He said: “Jorgi texted me and asked if I wanted to come. At the time, I wasn’t sure if they wanted me but, of course, I said I would come with pleasure.

“It was the same with Edou, he asked me the question and I told him it was already done and I would see him soon.

Reunited: Koulibaly and international teammate Edouard Mendy will now lineup alongside each other at club level (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Reunited: Koulibaly and international teammate Edouard Mendy will now lineup alongside each other at club level (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“Now I’m here, I’m really happy to start this exciting journey.”

There is full confidence that Koulibaly will adapt to life in England. He already speaks good English and is known for his complete dedication to his craft.

Jorginho (right) said: “He speaks better English already than I do, so that will be good for him to help settle in. It’s going to be really easy for him because of the person he is.”

One concern that has been raised over Koulibaly’s big-money move is his age and the length of the contract offered to him. The 31-year-old signed a four-year deal, at the time a record-breaking transfer for an over-30 player, but it was quickly broken by Barcelona signing Robert Lewandowski.

For manager Tuchel, however, age is not an issue.

“We have Thiago Silva, who is even older and super experienced and still at the peak of his game,” he said. “We hope Kalidou can do the same and play for many years for us. He is totally fit and ready for the challenge and he needs to be because we need him in top shape.”

Chelsea want to make further signings this summer and are willing to take their overall spend to £200m under the new Boehly-Clearlake owners.

“We want to be up there. We want to be pushing,” Mason Mount said after his side’s latest friendly in Charlotte. “Obviously to have Raheem [Sterling] joining and Kalidou joining us as well, they are two unbelievable players who have done very, very well over the last couple of years.”

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