Love it or loathe it, the summer transfer window is open, and clubs are waiting impatiently to solve all their problems with a giant bucket of cash, and a snazzy transfer announcement video.
One man who is destined for a cash bucketing is Kalidou Koulibaly. The Napoli star had been Serie A’s standout defender for a number of years until this season, and had it not been for a nasty injury he suffered in the 2019/20 campaign, he probably would have proven equally imperious for I Partenopei this term too.
Despite endlessly impressing since his arrival in south Italy, it is seemingly time to say goodbye. The 29-year-old has been on the verge of leaving Naples for a number of recent transfer windows, and the moment may have finally come for the Senegal international to bid Addio to his beloved supporters.
There is a sense – and has been for quite some time – that Koulibaly has outgrown Napoli, and his talents are better suited to a club competing for European trophies, as well as league titles – both awards he has been deprived of in Serie A.
Luckily for Koulibaly, there is no shortage of potential suitors. Premier League giants Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are all desperate to address their own defensive woes, and they like what they see in the Senegal captain.
The only problem? The asking price. Napoii president Aurelio De Laurentiis is known as a tough and ruthless negotiator, and he will squeeze every penny possible out of any interested parties. And any club that fancies a crack at Koulibaly will have to stump up £80m for his services, meaning there’s plenty at stake for whoever takes the plunge.
But is he worth £80m, and is he worth that money specifically to the Citizens, the Red Devils, and the Blues? 90min is on hand to weigh up these three possible moves, and decide whether he is worth the financial risk for the Premier League trio.
The 2019/20 campaign will have raised plenty more questions than answers for Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff, after Man City surrendered the Premier League title in November, while only claiming the Community Shield and Carabao Cup as ‘major’ honours.
The clean sweep of domestic trophies the season prior was always going to be an impossible benchmark with which to judge this crop of stars, but there’s no getting away from it.
Man City have regressed.
The Sky Blues have returned to the side which Guardiola adopted in his debut campaign, which was mentally and physically fragile, unable to handle falling behind, and afraid of putting their foot in. If they are to reach the heights they achieved from 2017 to 2019 once more, this has to stop.
Signing Koulibaly would be the perfect remedy. In a similar vein to Virgil van Dijk’s impact on Liverpool, the Senegalese star would be the ideal candidate to shore up their defence, play out from the back and demand perfection from those around him.
At 29 years of age, he has the experience and knowhow needed to guide the Citizens back to their best, and if he is able to help them land the long-awaited Champions League trophy, then who really cares about the price tag? He’s ready to take this team where it needs to be.
In this current market, there are precious few top level centre-backs, and no young prodigies are threatening to become defensive wonderkids any time soon. So, for now at least, Koulibaly is the best centre-back on offer, and could well be for the next three years.
That may just be enough time to teach Nathan Ake to become a proper elite defender, too. I love it when a plan comes together.
Worth £80m of Man City’s cash? Absolutely.
So, if Koulibaly is worth £80m of Man City’s hard earned cash, he must be shoe-in for Man Utd. Well, not exactly. When considering a fee this significant, you mustn’t only contemplate the figures involved, but the teams in play, and the projects they can offer.
If the project is right, then the money should not even come into question. Ask Jurgen Klopp, Alisson and the aforementioned Van Dijk.
However, that could be the stumbling block for this particular collaboration. Man Utd proved last summer, that adding an £80m centre-back to their defence isn’t enough to propel them back where they belong.
Although the Red Devils have recruited some genuine quality in recent transfer windows, their squad is still a long way off their rivals’ Liverpool and Man City. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be aware that the heart of the defence is a major issue, but there are also other fires he must put out around the pitch.
Man Utd need to strengthen in wide areas, particular at the back, and add some talent and depth to the midfield, if they are to challenge on all fronts in the coming years.
The prospect of signing an £80m defender, who may well be slightly past his prime is not the answer, then. By the time Solskjaer’s side are truly ready to compete at the top, Koulibaly could be over the hill, and still remain without that title he craves.
A case of right place, wrong time for the Senegalese star.
Worth £80m of Man Utd’s cash? Not this time.
And then, we have Chelsea. A team who can score goals for fun, and play some entertaining football, but ultimately fall down due to their absent-minded approach to defending.
The Blues conceded 54 goals last season – more than 14th placed Crystal Palace – and had it not been for the failings of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, Frank Lampard’s side could have ended the campaign much further down the ladder.
That’s all if’s and but’s, though. Chelsea have bagged Champions League football, and dragged Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner along for the ride. Next up, it has to be a centre-back. The Blues’ weak-link is the heart of their defence, and any additions in that area can only be seen as an improvement.
This all hinges on the cut of their manager’s jib, however. Lampard’s Derby County suffered the same defensive frailties in 2018/19 as his current Chelsea side, also shipping 54 goals – albeit in eight matches more. But there’s a recurring pattern there, and a worrying one, too.
The rookie coach is learning on the job, and he deserves credit for what he has achieved thus far. But should he fail to tweak his system to something more solid and sustainable next year, then it could prove to be, that not a single defender in the world could solve Chelsea’s problems. Not even Koulibaly.
Goals win games, but defences win titles. Forget Kai Havertz for a second, Frank, and have a think.
Worth £80m of Chelsea’s cash? Possibly – time may tell.