Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly has had a breakthrough season in the Serie A, and with several top European clubs reportedly chasing the centre-back, confirmation of a breakdown in contract talks has served to add fuel to the fire.
The Senegal international was among the best centre-backs in the Serie A in 2015-16 and is reported to be seeking a bumper new contract with the Naples club. However, talks between Napoli and Koulibaly have reportedly stalled, and the latter could start looking for greener pastures if the Partenopei do not meet his demands.
“The negotiations for a contract extension have stalled and they never wanted to discuss with us,” Koulibaly told L’Equipe. “No, I have not talked to [Antonio Conte] but that may be soon. If nothing happens at Napoli, I will start to have contact with other clubs.
“The game in England could be suitable for me but I like Italy, I do not press for a transfer but I hope to sign a renewal with Napoli or we proceed to other solutions.”
Koulibaly has become one of the most sought after defenders in Europe after his stellar performances for Napoli, and the 24-year-old will have no shortage of options if Napoli do not meet his contract demands. Given Koulibaly’s preference tomove to England, TheHardTackle looks at three Premier League giants who would benefit from signing the defender.
With Koulibaly himself stating that he might speak to incoming Chelsea boss Antonio Conte “soon”, the Blues are one of the top destinations for the Napoli defender. Chelsea have suffered in defence over the course of the season, and that is something that Conte will look to address on a priority basis this summer.
The Blues do have a number of quality centre-backs in the form of Gary Cahill, Kurt Zouma, Branislav Ivanovic (who has played primarily as a right-back in recent seasons) and captain John Terry. However, Conte prefers to play a three-man backline, which means that he would need a number of quality centre-backs in his squad. To add to that, the Italian requires at least one of the three to be a ball-playing centre-back who is capable of distributing intelligently and defending proactively.
Koulibaly is the perfect player for this role, as he has showcased his passing ability last season at Napoli, playing almost 60 passes per game — almost double the number of passes per game of any of the Chelsea defenders.
A potential stumbling block with regards to signing Koulibaly is that Antonio Conte cannot offer the Senegal international Champions League football at Stamford Bridge, something that the 24-year-old already has at Napoli.
Arsenal are another club in need of reinforcement in defence. The centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have been manning the backline for a few years now, but the Germany international has been inconsistent, giving rise to questions about whether he can cope with the pace and physicality of the Premier League with his advancing age.
Manager Arsene Wenger is said to be interested is signing Koulibaly as his latest acquisition this summer as a possible replacement for the ageing Mertesacker.
Gabriel Paulista has been filling in for Mertesacker when the 31-year-old has been injured or out of form, but the Brazilian defender has so far failed to impress. Signing Koulibaly could help Arsene Wenger strengthen the Gunners’ defence. The Senegal international could fit perfectly into the Arsenal setup as he is a good passer of the ball.
If Koulibaly does move to Arsenal, he is likely to be paired with Koscielny in the heart of the defence. However, a defensive partnership between Koulibaly and Koscielny could be a problem for the Gunners as both are similar in style.
The Reds are in for a major overhaul in the summer transfer window under German manager Jurgen Klopp. The former Borussia Dortmund boss has had a bittersweet first season at Anfield, as his team reached the League Cup and Europa League final, but lost both.
Most recently, Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure was released by the club [via Liverpool Echo], which makes it obvious that Klopp will be looking to sign a centre-back in the summer, despite the fact that Schalke defender Joel Matip will be joining the Reds from the 2016/17 season.
Although Klopp has shown an affinity to playing Dejan Lovren at the back, a combination of Joel Matip and Kalidou Koulibaly could work wonders under the former Dortmund boss’ system. Klopp likes his players to regain possession of the ball as soon as his team loses it. Both Koulibaly and Matip have high interception rates, as they can read the play well and cut off the opposition’s passes. This is exactly what Klopp will look to get out of the newly assembled Liverpool defence.
Also, at 31 years of age, Martin Skrtel might not have the stamina to be fully fit in all the games that the Reds have to play throughout the season. The 24-year-old Koulibaly, who has a significant physical presence like Skrtel, could be an ideal long term replacement for the Slovakia international.