The Hard Tackle assesses whether Kalidou Koulibaly would be a viable summer transfer target for Premier League giants Manchester United and Liverpool.
Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly has been getting linked with a transfer to the Premier League with every passing transfer window for a number of years now. One of the best defenders in Serie A, the 29-year-old has been on the radars of top clubs for quite a long time now.
But, the Partenopei president’s asking price of €100 million ensured that clubs refrained from making a move for the Senegalese international. However, that could be set to change in the upcoming transfer window, if a report from Italian outlet Il Matino is to be believed.
As per the update, Napoli are intent on trimming their wage bill ahead of the next season and shedding Koulibaly’s massive €7 million-a-year salary could make a huge difference for the Serie A outfit on that front.
To that end, Napoli are willing to consider offers for their defensive mainstay this summer – offers as low as €45 million, something which German champions Bayern Munich are prepared to meet. But, this development has put two giants of English football, Liverpool and Manchester United, on alert, with both clubs now considering the possibility of a transfer.
The Hard Tackle now takes a look as to whether the 29-year-old Senegalese man-mountain is a viable target for Liverpool and Manchester United and whether making a move for him in the upcoming summer would make sense for either club.
The ongoing season has been an eye-opener for Jurgen Klopp & co. with regard to the importance of having quality depth in the ranks across all positions on the pitch. Liverpool have been ravaged by injuries this term, especially in the centre-half department, to an extent to which they have had to field twenty different centre-back partnerships across all competitions over the course of the season.
The season-ending injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez early in the campaign were huge blows while Joel Matip’s unreliability due to his own fitness problems came to the fore once again. Fabinho was shifted to the centre-back slot, where admittedly, he has performed well above expectations.
However, his absence in midfield has hurt Liverpool quite a bit, while the likes of Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips, for all their promise, lack the experience to be playing at this level in a team harbouring hopes of titles week in week out.
January signing Ben Davies has spent his entire professional career playing in the lower divisions of English football and is yet to make his debut for the Reds while Ozan Kabak, arriving on loan in the winter transfer window, has shown flaws in his game in his handful of appearances, which might stop Liverpool from making his transfer permanent.
Thus, bringing in another top-quality centre-back in the summer should be a top priority for Liverpool. They need only look at rivals and champions-elect Manchester City for the impact that such an addition can have, as shown by the summer signing of Ruben Dias. To that end, Koulibaly is the kind of defender who can take Liverpool’s defence to a whole new level.
A unit physically, Koulibaly backs it up with solid technical ability and ball-playing qualities while his positional sense and capability to read danger would make him a good fit into this Liverpool side. Not to mention, the impact that two of the world’s top centre-backs in Koulibaly and Van Dijk pairing up can have on the team.
Throw in his years of experience at the highest level and his leadership qualities, Liverpool would have another ‘mentality monster’ in their midst, which, in theory, should help the team bounce back strongly from the failed defence of their Premier League title and become the superpowers of England and Europe again.
Unlike Liverpool, Manchester United do not have a shortage of quantity or experience in their defensive unit. But, the quality part is something that has been a major concern among the fans for a while now and that will need addressing if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to turn the progress that he has achieved at the club into tangible success in the form of trophies.
In club captain Harry Maguire, Manchester United have the world’s most expensive centre-back. However, the England international, for all his positive attributes, has time and again shown some glaring flaws in his game like the lack of mobility and the inability to organise his defence, something which came to the fore in the Red Devils’ 3-3 draw against Everton last month.
Harry Maguire, Everton's hero 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/XNXvJD44t4
— WittyFutty⚽️ (@wittyfutty) February 7, 2021
Matters haven’t been helped by the fact that Victor Lindelof hasn’t been able to kick on as expected when he arrived at the club from Benfica in 2017, still continuing to show a lack of consistency while his struggles coming up against strong, physical forwards remain an issue.
Eric Bailly, when fit, can be a good option for Solskjaer but the problem is that the Ivorian is seldom available for the entirety of a season. Indeed since joining Manchester United in 2016, Bailly has missed 92 games due to injuries, almost the same number of games he has played (99), giving an indicator of the degree of his unreliability.
With Phil Jones seemingly not part of the manager’s plans anymore and Axel Tuanzebe still learning the ropes of the trade at the highest level, it only makes sense for Manchester United to invest in a new centre-half, someone who is experienced, has loads of quality and would make an immediate difference to the team.
And this is where Koulibaly would enter the picture. The Senegalese international has shown that he can go toe-to-toe with physical strikers during his time with Napoli, while his leadership characteristics would also be a major boost for Manchester United given that they have lacked such characters on the field often this season.
The 29-year-old has pace, power, experience and his ball-playing abilities would help Manchester United play out from the back more effectively – something that has been an issue at times this term. Solskjaer still needs quite a few pieces to complete his puzzle at Old Trafford and Koulibaly could certainly be one of them.
Both Liverpool and Manchester United are in need of a new defender ahead of the new season. And Koulibaly would prove to be a wily addition to the ranks for either clubs. At 29, he is in the peak years of his career and still has plenty more to offer at the highest level.
Since joining Napoli in 2014, the Senegalese centre-half has missed just 24 games due to injury-related problems, four of which came this season due to coronavirus, providing testament to his supreme fitness levels. He has been in close title races with the Partenopei, helped then win the Coppa Italia last term and also led Senegal to the finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Manchester United and Liverpool have also been linked with another quality defender in Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. But, Koulibaly’s availability for the aforementioned €45 million price-tag could make him a cheaper alternative for both clubs – making him a viable target and a candidate that they must look at to bolster the defence next summer.
What next for Kalidou Koulibaly?
Koulibaly has spent over six years at Napoli and has been considered as one of the best modern-day centre-backs in the game for the majority of that time. But success in terms of silverware has eluded him in Naples with him having won just the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana to date. Thus, he must take the next step in order to get his hands on trophies as he nears his thirties.
To that end, both Manchester United and Liverpool would be able to provide him with a much better chance of success than Napoli. More so Liverpool, despite their recent troubles, considering that they are much closer to being a complete unit than their arch-rivals and have tasted success more recently as well. And a potential summer switch to Anfield could certainly appeal to the 29-year-old.