If you asked people how many mountains are in Naples the consensus would be one, Mount Vesuvius. However, if you ask Napolitani, they’ll say there are two, with the second being Kalidou Koulibaly.
Dubbed “K2,” after the mountain in Asia, the 27-year-old Senegalese center-back stands at six foot, five inches tall, with a 196lb frame, making him worthy of being described as a “mountain of a man.”
Prior to joining Napoli, Koulibaly plied his trade in France for Metz, and in Belgium for Genk. He signed for the Partenopei in 2014 in a move that cost Napoli-owner Aurelio De Laurentiis around €8m, a price which is now seen as a steal. Kalidou’s worth has done nothing but skyrocket since then, with reported offers of up to £95 million being thrown Napoli’s way courtesy of Manchester United.
If De Laurentiis had accepted the offer, Koulibaly would have surpassed Virgil van Dijk as the most expensive defender in history, a title that, if gained, will be rightfully earned.In the past two years, K2 has made a case for himself to be regarded as the best defender in the world, but it’s his performances this year that have brought up serious discussion amongst the football community. Koulibaly’s performances against Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, along with his consistency in Serie A, have done nothing but strengthen his case. He’s shown that he can shut down Europe’s elite with outstanding defensive showings when matched up against the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Mohamed Salah, and Neymar.
What makes Koulibaly such a force to be reckoned with is his versatility. He combines defensive prowess and innate physical superiority with great technical ability that is only common among the world’s best defenders. Additionally, Kalidou is an excellent shot-stopper. He rarely gives his opponents any room to get a shot off, and when they do, he is standing in the way to save his goalkeeper the trouble.
One of his most notable and “viral” displays of these qualities came in Napoli’s 2-2 draw with PSG at the Parc des Princes. Mbappe dribbled at Koulibaly with the intentions of beating him on pace, however, once Mbappe took a touch to burst past him, K2 matched his speed and outmuscled the soon to be 20-year-old and slid to take the ball off of him.
This is one of Kalidou’s most important traits, as we often see him racing back to stop counter-attacks when he races forward to help his team out in the attack. The difference between Koulibaly and other defenders, though, is that his surging runs forwards are a common occurrence in every game whether his side needs a goal or not. The technical ability instilled in him during Maurizio Sarri’s time with Napoli allows K2 to be an important component in build-up play and, often times, attacks on goal. His assist to Insigne in the Partenopei’s 5-1 win against Empoli is the perfect example of just how effective he is.
These qualities create a compelling case for Koulibaly to be the best defender in the world, and he very well might be. There are a couple of flaws in his game, though, which hold the Senegalese international back from being given that title completely. Kalidou is prone to simple errors in his passing game. Often we see the 27-year-old misplace a somewhat easy pass that gives the other team possession. Also, Koulibaly has always been a massive threat on set-pieces, but he is yet to score this season.
When you think of the current best defenders in the world, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Diego Godin all come to mind. Now, it’d be foolish not to include Kalidou Koulibaly in that mix. Whether or not he is the best in the world is still up for discussion, with many saying he is. K2 finds himself hovering right at the threshold of becoming the most coveted defender in all of world football, but it is those previously mentioned errors that prevent him from breaking through that threshold. Once he fixes these, count on him to be the outright world’s best.