- Senegalese star joined Blues in 2022
- Endured a testing campaign at Stamford Bridge
- Taking on a new challenge in the Middle East
WHAT HAPPENED? The commanding Senegalese centre-half has formed part of the exodus from Europe to the Middle East, with the 32-year-old moving to Saudi Arabia in a £20 million ($25m) transfer. He will be working on a lucrative contract at Al-Hilal and believes that the best decision has been made for him and his family.
WHAT THEY SAID: Koulibaly has told Corriere dello Sport: “I am happy with my decisions for many reasons. I am Muslin and I land in the right country. I am happy to play in a league that is evolving and I hope I can help Saudi Arabia and Al-Hilal write history in sports and this contract is really important. I can help my family live well, my parents and cousins, and sustain the social activities of my NGO in Senegal: Capitane du Coeur. We started with constructing a paediatric clinic in the village where my parents were born and married. It’s called Ngano.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE: Koulibaly was regarded as one of the finest defenders on the planet when leaving Napoli for Chelsea in 2022, but he took in just 32 appearances for the Blues. He claims to have no regrets and added on his time in England: “I had no guarantees to get regular playing time [at Chelsea], I was always professional but I don’t like to sit on the bench doing nothing. I prefer a place where I am wanted and at the centre of the project and can be an example for young players. The Premier League is fantastic and there are great players. They expected the Koulibaly of Napoli, but I think my season was not so bad. I needed time and in one year I couldn’t prove what I wanted because of the coach’s and club’s choices. I am happy with what I learned about my limits, my family and my kids. My time had come and I had to make a decision. My team-mates sent me so many messages, they are all sorry, but I have to prepare for the Afcon. It’s the most important thing for me, Senegal want to win again, but it won’t be easy.”
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WHAT NEXT? Koulibaly is captain of the Senegal national team and led them to Africa Cup of Nations glory in 2022, with the defence of that crown set to begin in January 2024.