Chelsea swoop for Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly in club-record £60 million deal
Chelsea have made their move for Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly – for what could be a club-record fee of £60 million – in an emphatic effort by manager Antonio Conte to strengthen his team.
If, as is now hoped, Koulibaly signs from Napoli, it will raise question marks over the immediate first-team future of England international Gary Cahill as John Terry’s partner at the heart of Chelsea’s defence.
Conte could move to a back-three if he signs the French-born Senegal international, a formation he has favoured in previous posts with Juventus and Italy.
But with Kurt Zouma hoping to return from injury by the end of the year it will undoubtedly increase the competition in defence for Cahill and also for 35-year-old Terry who signed a 12-month contract extension after being urged to do so by the new manager.
And neither is Koulibaly expected to be Chelsea’s final big signing of the summer window with the club still in the market for another striker and a growing sense that they will, finally, test Everton’s resolve to hold onto Romelu Lukaku before the window closes.
Everton are yet to receive an official Chelsea bid for Lukaku, who would also cost upwards of £60 million, but it is known that the London club would like to bring their former striker back. Chelsea will keep Diego Costa, with Atletico Madrid having given up on re-signing him after they bought Kevin Gameiro from Sevilla, but want another striker despite having spent £33 million on another Belgian, Michy Batshuayi.
Chelsea are looking to finally off-load Loic Remy and although it was thought the French striker could be a makeweight in the Lukaku deal with Everton, other clubs, including Crystal Palace, who have tried to sign Remy in the past, are interested.
Koulibaly, 25, has been Chelsea’s main defensive target all summer once it appeared certain that John Stones would be moving to Manchester City and although reports in Italy on Wednesday suggested an offer of up to £48 million had been made it is understood – according to sources - that the Premier League club are actually prepared to go far higher in an effort to, at last, force Napoli into selling.
If the scale of their bid is around £60 million, as sources claim, then it would eclipse the club record £50 million paid to Liverpool for striker Fernando Torres in January 2011. It would also be far higher than the £47.5 million City paid for Stones and even in this inflated market it would demonstrate how important it is for Conte to strengthen his defence.
Terry has retained his status as club captain and will be an important player for Chelsea again this season, but it is likely that Conte will not play him every game, while Cahill endured a difficult Euro 2016 with England and there have been indications that Zouma – when fit – has already gone ahead of him in the pecking order. That pressure will be even greater if a big signing such as Koulibaly is made by Conte.
Napoli have stated they want to keep Koulibaly and have attempted to offer him a new contract but it is understood that the player is keen to move. The size of Chelsea’s new bid, which is expected to include add-ons, would be extremely difficult for Napoli to resist even if owner Aurelio De Laurentis has a reputation for digging his heels in and has already sold striker Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus for an astonishing £75 million this summer.
Conte made a winning start to his career as Chelsea manager, with the 2-1 Premier League victory at home to West Ham United, but despite signing Batshuayi and £32 million midfielder N’Golo Kante there is a general acceptance that the club needs to strengthen further and especially in central defence.
Koulibaly, who has also previously played as a holding midfielder and at full-back, has the pace and power that Conte believes Chelsea need as they bid to return to the top four and challenge for the title this season without the involvement of European football.
There were suggestions that Chelsea had turned their attentions to other defensive targets. They have been linked to Torino’s Nikola Maksimovic but that could partly be because the Serb has been lined up by Napoli as Koulibaly’s replacement should they sell.