How Man Utd transfer target Kalidou Koulibaly’s immigrant parents sacrificed all for their son to become a footballerApril 16, 2019
KALIDOU Koulibaly has become one of the world’s most sought after defenders, following a string of impressive performances in Serie A for Napoli.
In fact, he’s said to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s chief transfer target in the summer – with Manchester United reportedly hoping to prise the 27-year-old Senegal international from Naples in a £130m deal.
But his journey to the top hasn’t been easy, and it’s his mum and dad he has to thank, who made the ultimate sacrifice in helping him achieve his dream of starring at the highest level.
“My parents were migrants and I experienced first hand the challenges they had to overcome,” Koulibaly once revealed.
“If they hadn’t decided to seek a better life elsewhere, I could never have aspired to become the person I am now. ”
KOULIBALY’S HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Not much is known about his family, but the towering centre half was born in the French commune, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, 50 miles southeast of Nancy to African parents who migrated from Senegal to France in hope of a better life.
Koulibaly’s mum was a cleaner, taking on as many jobs as she could to support her family on minimum wage.
His dad cut up logs into lumber in a sawmill, again for a pittance.
Wanting their son to get a decent education, they enrolled Koulibaly at Vincent Auriol Elementary school, where he excelled as a pupil.
“Kalidou was a good student who was diligent, practical and pleasant,” former teacher Phillippe Pisso told LifeBlogger.
“His success does not surprise me, after all he had always talked about becoming a professional footballer and worked towards achieving it at school.”
While at Vincent Auriol, Koulibaly soon developed a love for football. He played for local amateur team SR Saint-Die from the age of eight.
Soon, the beautiful game began to take over his life.
He revealed: “Whenever I got home, I’d hurry to complete my homework and then play football in front of our house.
“I can still remember how my mother would shout my name out of the window because I was playing football late at night and had school to attend the next day.”
In 2003, aged 12, Koulibaly was handed the opportunity to train at FC Metz.
But his gangly frame and uncompromising style failed to impress their coaches, who felt he lacked the ability to bring the ball out of defence and thought his ball control was useless.
They released him in 2006, and he returned back to SR Saint-Die with his tail between his legs.
Knowing he had to improve, Koulibaly set himself a target. He concentrated on his distribution and composure on the ball.
He also modelled his game on French legend Lilian Thuram.
“He’s the player who inspired me,” Koulibaly said in 2014.
“He gave me a lot of joy, alongside other stars who won the World Cup in 1998. Thuram was an example on and off the pitch, and I hope to reach his level.”
REDEMPTION AT FC METZ
Just three years later, Ligue 2 side FC Metz came knocking again, giving him another opportunity to impress at youth level.
Koulibaly helped the club’s under-19 team win the 2009–10 Coupe Gambardella after the team defeated Sochaux 5–4 on penalties in the final.
He also appeared 15 times in the Championnat de France Amateur, as Metz were crowned champions.
In 2010, he signed a professional contract and was swiftly handed his first team debut against Vannes.
But, in truth, he struggled with his confidence.
“Every mistake made him lose his focus for the rest of the game,” coach Dominique Bijotat once said.
He appeared 46 times over two seasons, but couldn’t stop Metz from relegation to France’s third tier.
Without any offers in his own country, Koulibaly moved to Belgium giants Genk on a four-year deal in 2012, and won the Belgium Cup a year later.
Koulibaly’s aerial prowess, anticipation, passing ability and versatility (he can play full back) began to shine.
And although he was a shy personality, he started to become a leader among men – with teammate Julien Gorius claiming, “we haven’t had such a talented centre-back in our league since Vincent Kompany”.
His form impressed Italian scouts, and the news filtered to then-Napoli manager Rafa Benitiez who decided to see for himself what all the fuss was about.
The Spaniard was wowed by what he saw, and immediately contacted his new discovery.
But so unsure of his own ability, the strapping Koulibaly thought the call was a prank and hung up on Benitez twice before realising the call was genuine.
Eventually, a £6.5 million deal was sanctioned in 2014, just two years after Genk took a punt on him.
Since joining The Blues, Koulibaly has established himself as a firm fans’ favourite, earning nicknames including ‘The Wall’ and K2, in resemblance to the famous mountain.
Success has been fairly limited, with only the 2014 Italian Supercup to show in his list of honours.
But his ability has been recognised by his peers, and he’s appeared in the Serie A team of the year for the past three seasons.
Off the pitch, Koulibaly keep his personal life very private. He is a husband to French wife Charline, his childhood sweetheart.
And he’s also a father, often sharing snaps of his baby boy Mon Gars on his own Instagram account.
In 2015, Koulibaly pledged allegiance to the Senegal national team.
He had played for France’s Under 20 team, but switched federations despite the pleas of French manager Didier Deschamps, who was desperate to have Koulibaly in the spine of his side.
His decision was inspired by his parents’ heritage, and he’s admitted in the past that he felt he had to honour them.
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“I don’t have any regrets because I want to write the story of the future of Senegal football and I hope I’ll be able to do that,” Koulibaly told BBC Sport.
“I spoke about the decision with my wife and I chose to go with Senegal.
“When I saw the light in the eyes of my parents when I told them I had chosen Senegal, I was really happy and comfortable with my choice.”