KALIDOU KOULIBALY’S phone has been lit up by Chelsea legends ever since he arrived at Stamford Bridge.
As a child growing up in north-east France to Senegalese parents, Koulibaly was encouraged to watch the Blues by his brother Abdoulaye — an obsessive fan of the club.
Ex-Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly has been buoyed ahead of his Chelsea debut by texts from Stamford Bridge legendsCredit: Getty
All-time great Blues Didier Drogba and John Terry set standards that newcomer Kalidou Koulibaly dreams of matchingCredit: AFP
So, after signing a £35million four-year-deal from Napoli earlier this month, even he — a global celebrity in his own right — was starstruck by who congratulated him.
“I remember really well because then they won the Champions League and he scored the penalty.
“I want to show them that I will give everything for this club and maybe one day be part of them.”
Koulibaly, 31, will be wearing the shirt of one of those legends this season, becoming the first Chelsea player to don the No 26 since Terry left the club back in 2017.
The desire for that number comes as he was born on 20/06/1991 on the same day, in the same city and same hospital as his wife Charline.
But he was left humbled just hours before signing his contract after Terry HUNG UP on him fearing a practical joke.
Koulibaly explained: “I wanted to know which numbers were free. The team manager told me some but he didn’t tell me the 26, so I asked and he said that John left it in 2017.
“I was asking whether it was retired or that nobody wanted to take it.
“I asked Zola, he told me the story of Chelsea.
“I asked him for John’s number because I wanted to ask him about the jersey. In the beginning, he didn’t believe it was me.
“He thought it was a joke so he put down the phone and called the team manager to ask if it was really me. After, I asked him respectfully to take his number.
“When he told me yes, I was really happy because I know what he did for the club, the supporters, and the city here. I don’t want to be disrespectful to a legend.”
Just like Terry, Koulibaly is a rarity in the modern game — a defender who is looking forward to physical battles.
New Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez and Manchester City’s star summer arrival Erling Haaland, both right, will face Kalidou Koulibaly this seasonCredit: Getty
This Premier League campaign will see him tested by the likes of Erling Haaland, Darwin Nunez, Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane.
And while Koulibaly admits it may take him months to get up to speed with the Prem from Serie A, he will not back down.
He said: “I like the duels and one-against-ones. I like to defend, so for me, it’s the right place.
“It will be difficult but I want to show everybody that I can be the defender they think.”
The departure of Romelu Lukaku back to Inter Milan on loan leaves Chelsea without a target forward, although Koulibaly is still hoping to one day play alongside the Belgian.
He added: “Last year I think maybe he didn’t have the confidence he needed. Maybe next year or in a few years he will come back.”
Blues boss Thomas Tuchel has put his faith in an over-30 on a long-term deal to replace Antonio Rudiger, something which surprised a few, but not Koulibaly.
He said: “I know that I can give them four years or even more.
“I do not want to be the guy who replaced Rudiger. I am Koulibaly.”
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