'We will never stop thanking him' – Spalletti hails Napoli great Koulibaly as Chelsea move nears

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Luciano Spalletti said Napoli "will never stop thanking" Kalidou Koulibaly should he depart for Chelsea, as reports suggested the Senegal captain was edging closer to a move.

Koulibaly has made 236 Serie A appearances since joining Napoli from Belgian outfit Genk in 2014, including 27 as the Partenopei finished third last season.

Napoli vice president Edoardo De Laurentiis admitted he was unsure why Koulibaly was yet to extend his contract with the club last week, and reports on Tuesday suggested he could be set for a move to the Premier League.

Chelsea are reportedly locked in negotiations to seal a €40million (£33.7m) move for the 31-year-old, who has just one year remaining on his deal in Naples, and Spalletti says he will harbour no ill-will towards the defensive colossus if he departs.

"I always remain of the same opinion. I always prefer Koulibaly to everyone," Spalletti said, during a question-and-answer session with fans.

"It is easy for me because he, as a Napoli player, is the one who has the highest average points. When he was on the pitch, we scored more points.

"Should he choose to go, we will never stop thanking him for everything he taught us and for everything he gave us to make us play in the Champions League this year.

"He is very good, very strong. This year he would also be captain [if he chose to stay].

"If he will choose different things, we will wish him the best because he deserves it all, and woe to anyone who will tell him something if he has to make different choices."

Koulibaly's departure would be a significant blow for Napoli, who have already lost Lorenzo Insigne on a free transfer during the off-season, with the Italy star heading to Major League Soccer side Toronto FC.

And Spalletti says Napoli are assessing all options as they look to improve their squad: "We are making evaluations. We have lost [Dries] Mertens [who is yet to agree a contract renewal], Insigne and [David] Ospina.

"For the others there are possibilities, so we don't know. These players are important references, but we have very strong young people who can become leaders of this team."

One player to have been strongly linked with Napoli is former Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, who remains a free agent after departing the Turin giants at the end of his contract last month.

"Who knows? The ways of the lord are infinite," De Laurentiis quipped when asked whether Napoli could target the Argentine on Sunday, and Spalletti says he admires the 28-year-old.

"Many like Dybala because he has the qualities to give solutions to a team," he added. "He is a player who has imagination, inspiration, a great foot, takes set pieces very well, scores goals.

"We would try to make him grow a little bit. He's perfect in the way of being a strong team player."

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