Chelsea’s Koulibaly on realizing his Premier League dream

Throughout his career, Kalidou Koulibaly has had to learn to be patient. Rejected by Metz as a 15-year-old for being “too introverted”, in the words of the club’s academy director Denis Schaeffer, the towering defender who grew up in north-east France to Senegalese parents spent two years playing amateur football for Saint-Dié before finally was invited back to Metz.

More than a decade later and having arrived at Chelsea last month for £33.8m after eight years with Napoli where he established himself as one of the world’s best defenders, Koulibaly certainly could not be accused of being an introvert these days.

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Fluent in four languages ​​after picking up English during his time at Genk in Belgium, the 31-year-old insists he “never stopped believing” he could fulfill his childhood dream of playing in the Premier League and makes no secret of his move to Stamford Bridge has been several years in the making after Antonio Conte first tried to sign him in 2015.

“I spoke to Conte in Rome – he wanted me after my first good year at Napoli,” Koulibaly recalls. “I respectfully asked the owner that I wanted to go to Chelsea, but he told me it would not be possible. So I waited a bit and continued the conversation with them, but they really didn’t want me to leave the club, so I decided to renew my contract to stay in Napoli. For me it was a bit difficult to say no because it was my dream to play in the Premier League since I was a child. But I knew it would happen one day, and I’m glad it did. I had to wait, and I had a lot of patience.”

New Chelsea signing Kalidou Koulibaly has vowed he will never let anyone stop him from representing Senegal.

The Senegal captain called for more respect for African nations after the president of his former club Napoli threatened to only sign African players willing to give up international ambitions.

Aurelio De Laurentiis promised that Napoli will only now sign African players if they are willing to miss the Africa Cup of Nations, given the tournament’s clash with European league competition.

“We’re the idiots who pay salaries just to send them all over the world and play for others,” De Laurentiis said.

Koulibaly has joined Chelsea in a £34m deal from Napoli, becoming part of new owner Todd Boehly’s new Stamford Bridge era. The 31-year-old insisted he would honor De Laurentiis’ promise of African players, but urged European teams to do the same with the Africa Cup of Nations.

“It’s up to him if he wants to say this,” replied Koulibaly, who captained Senegal to Afcon glory at the 2022 tournament. But for me the most important thing is to respect everyone.

“When I played there I also played for Senegal. I won the Afcon when I played for Senegal for Napoli. It’s true that it’s difficult for them, but I think you have to respect the national team as well. You have to have respect like you have from European national team.

“As the captain of Senegal, it’s not a good way to talk about African nationality, but I respect what he thinks. If he means it, it’s up to him, but I don’t think everyone has the same idea as him at the club. The supporters don’t think like that. It’s up to him, it’s not an idea about the community or the city, the city has respect for everything. This world, it’s what he thinks, not what the team thinks or what the city thinks.” PA Media and Reuters

Liverpool and Manchester City were among the other clubs linked with the man who led Senegal to their first Africa Cup of Nations triumph this year in what has become a headline transfer rumour. But a four-year contract at Chelsea and the opportunity to play a leading role in Todd Boehly’s new era convinced him it was now or never.

– It is true that I was close and it could have happened before, but I am happy to sign for Chelsea and continue playing in blue. I am happy and the decoration of my house is better. For me [the four‑year contract] is proof that they have confidence in me. They know I’m a professional player, I like to take care of my body, of everything. I am grateful to God that I did not have many major injuries, so for this they have confidence in me and I know that I can give them a few years. Four years or even more, but this will depend on them. I want to give them these four years with a lot of energy.”

Whether Chelsea can challenge for the title after a spring and summer of upheaval remains to be seen, although Koulibaly – who won a solitary Coppa Italia at Napoli in 2020 despite regularly challenging for the Serie A title – has his sights set on trophies.

“With my personal experience, I know you don’t have to put a limit on your dream and my dream is to win everything with Chelsea,” he says. “I know it will be difficult. I don’t come with arrogant behavior. I come with respect, a lot of respect for everyone, but I know that Chelsea is a big team and a team that needs to win, that is used to winning. I see in the gym there are all the trophies on the wall that they win and I want to be a part of those trophies. I haven’t won much in my career so I’m coming here to win some trophies, some titles and I hope that starts this year.”

Koulibaly will become the fourth Senegal international to play for Chelsea and was congratulated by the first – Demba Ba – when he signed. He was also approached by Didier Drogba and, to the delight of his brother Abdoulaye, a lifelong Chelsea fan, by Gianfranco Zola. It was thanks to the diminutive Italian, voted Chelsea’s player of the year in 2003, that Koulibaly contacted John Terry to see if he could take the No. 26 shirt – his number at Napoli – which had not been used since the previous England. captain quit in 2017.

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“I asked him John’s number because I wanted to ask him about the jersey,” he says. “He gave me the number directly and I called him. At first he didn’t think it was me. He thought it was a joke, so he put the phone down and called the team leader to ask if it was really me.

Terry was eventually convinced he was speaking to Chelsea’s new signing and footage of Koulibaly speaking to him on the phone went viral when it was posted on Twitter this week.

“It was very important for me to ask him and he gave me the answer. I was happy and I wanted to tell everyone that I asked him before because I don’t want to be disrespectful to a legend at the club.

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