Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis spoke of his willingness to sell Kalidou Koulibaly this transfer window, stating that for the right price, another club was free to take him. That price is reported to be in the region of €75m, with Manchester City the forerunners for quite some time now.
From an economic standpoint, the deal makes total sense. Napoli’s asking price is well-justified for a player of his quality and, taking into account that he turns 30 next year, the most they’ll probably ever get for him. Not to mention that the club would be making an enormous profit on a player they paid just €7m for back in 2014.
From a sporting standpoint, however, the deal doesn’t make as much sense. Koulibaly is considered to be one of the best centre-backs in the world and is completely irreplaceable in terms of what he brings to the team. At 29, he is at his peak, but could probably perform at that level for another three or four years, which would make him an indispensable player for another few seasons at least.
It’s not like Koulibaly’s head has been turned either. He loves the club and the city of Naples itself, identifying as Neapolitan in addition to French and Senegalese, and has spoken before of the strong warmth that he feels from the people within the city. Naples, in return for his contributions on the pitch and his affection for the city, have granted him honorary citizenship and there’s even a pizza named after him, a high honour in a city that is the birthplace of Italy’s most famous dish.
It’s perhaps for these reasons - even with the constant transfer speculation surrounding him over the last few years - that he wants to stay at Napoli. Back in July, he stated he was settled in Naples and hinted that he wanted to see out his playing days at the Stadio San Paolo. Nevertheless, he seems likely to leave and not necessarily of his own volition.
If Koulibaly is sold, it wouldn’t be the first time Napoli have cashed-in on their most crucial player. Jorginho - the midfielder instrumental to the Partenopei’s title challenge in 2017-18 - was sold to Chelsea for €60m just after that season. Two years before that, Gonzalo Higuain was sold to Juventus on the back of a record-breaking campaign in which he scored 36 goals in 35 games.
Cashing in on your most important players isn’t exactly a recipe for success, even if De Laurentiis does spend the money received for them. Napoli have just splashed out €70m for Victor Osimhen, an enormous amount for a 21-year-old unpolished striker, while they spent a total of €140m last summer.
Regardless, a club who really should have Scudetto intentions must try to keep hold of their better players, especially in the circumstances of last season, which was their worst for over a decade. Koulibaly was far from being the problem with that Napoli squad, and he should be part of the team that attempts to reclaim their place among Italy’s elite, not sold on.
De Laurentiis cannot be described as an unambitious man, but he must be able to recognise that Koulibaly brings something to Napoli that money can’t buy. Yes, you can buy world-class talent such as him, but he also possesses a fierce loyalty to Napoli, a deep understanding of the club and its supporters, and will never, ever, not give his all in the colours of the Azzurri.