Chelsea new signing Kalidou Koulibaly has vowed he will not let anyone stop him from representing Senegal.
The Senegalese captain called for more respect for African nations after the president of his former club Napoli threatened to sign only African players willing to give up international ambitions.
Aurelio De Laurentiis promised Napoli will only sign African players if they are willing to miss the Africa Cup of Nations as the tournament clashes with competition in the European league.
Koulibaly has joined Chelsea in a £34m deal from Napoli and will become part of new owner Todd Boehly’s new Stamford Bridge era.
The 31-year-old insisted he would respect de Laurentiis’ promise on African players but urged European sides to do the same at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“No one ever told me not to go to AFCON or anything like that,” said Koulibaly, who led Senegal to AFCON glory at the 2022 tournament. “Maybe sometimes they try to ask my manager or something.
“But me, now as captain of Senegal, if AFCON comes, I have to be first there, first in Senegal.
“Nobody can forbid me to go to my national team. I love my national team very much, the team I play for.
“So if someone told me to do that, it would be the only time I could fight someone.
“The way we feel about my national team all the time, we’re all respectful, we’re waiting for players to come from the Premier League and everyone is happy to be here.
“Everyone in the national team thinks like me. If someone told them not to come, they would always fight to come.
“That’s the most important. Everyone has to show us respect.”
Napoli boss De Laurentiis this week lamented the time African players spend attending tournaments like AFCON outside of the Italian season.
“We’re the idiots who pay salaries just to send them around the world to play for others,” he said.
When asked for his opinion on his former club president’s views, Koulibaly said: “It’s up to him if he wants to say that.
“But for me the most important thing is to respect everyone.
“When I played there, I also played for Senegal. I won AFCON playing for Napoli for Senegal.
“It’s true, it’s difficult for them, but I think you also have to respect the national team.
“You have to have respect like you do for European national teams.
“As the captain of Senegal, it’s not a good way to talk about African nationality, but I respect what he thinks.
“Whether he thinks that is up to him, but I think not everyone at the club has the same idea as him. The followers don’t think so.
“It’s up to him, it’s not an idea of society or the city, the city respects everything.
“This world is what he thinks, not what the team thinks or what the city thinks.”
Chelsea have been chasing Koulibaly since 2015 and finally got their man this summer.
The Senegalese captain will help bolster the Blues’ defense following the departures of Toni Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen.
Koulibaly asked John Terry for his blessing to take the former blues star’s number 26, revealing he had wondered if the number had been retired at Stamford Bridge.
“I wanted to know what number was free, I was sent some numbers and I wasn’t sent 26,” Koulibaly said.
“I asked for 26 and they said John left it in 2017 and nobody has taken it since.
“So I was like, ‘Is it retired or does nobody want to take it?’
“So I asked Gianfranco Zola because I know him very well and I asked him so many questions.
“I asked him for John’s phone number because I wanted to ask him about the shirt.
“I called John and at first he didn’t think it was me, he thought it was a joke. So he called the team manager to ask if it really was me.
“I know it’s a very important number for John, but it’s also a very important number for me because I got it in Napoli.
“And when he said yes, I was very happy because I know what he’s done for the club and the fans here.
“He gave me his answer and I was happy, so I wanted to tell everyone that I asked him before because I didn’t want to disrespect a legend at the club.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/kalidou-koulibaly-chelsea-senegal-aurelio-delaurentiis-b2137387.html Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly won’t let anyone stop him from representing Senegal