Kalidou Koulibaly exits Chelsea to become latest star name joining Saudi Pro League
Chelsea have announced the sale of Kalidou Koulibaly to Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal, having spent just one year at the club.
The Senegalese centre-back was much sought-after during his time at Napoli in Serie A but it was the Stamford Bridge club who eventually landed him last summer for an estimated £34 million.
However, a chaotic campaign saw the 32-year-old play under four different managers as the Todd Boehly and Clearlake era got off to a tumultuous start and, ultimately, a desperately poor 2022/23 season.
A large turnover of transfers was expected this summer at Chelsea after well over half a billion pounds was spent across the course of the past year, and Koulibaly thus becomes the latest exit – and the latest star playing in Europe who has decided to join the Saudi Pro League and the vast sums suddenly on offer there.
Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr midway through last term, Karim Benzema followed his former teammate with a switch from Real Madrid to Al-Ittihad earlier this month. And Koulibaly isn’t even the first Chelsea player to tread this path either, with N’Golo Kante moving from west London to the same team as Benzema last week.
Meanwhile, Mateo Kovacic is soon to complete a move to Manchester City as the overhaul continues under new head coach Mauricio Pochettino.
Even so, the departure of Koulibaly is a notable one.
Koulibaly was initially a starter under Thomas Tuchel last autumn and was seen as a big coup for the club, but he fell out of favour under Graham Potter. The one match under Bruno Sartor saw Koulibaly play in the middle of a three-man defence, before Frank Lampard’s terrible run as interim boss saw a return to a four-man system, with Koulibaly in and out during that period.
In total he played 23 times in the Premier League and made 32 appearances in all competitions, scoring twice.
During the middle of his sole season with the Blues he also captained Senegal at the World Cup, scoring once before defeat to England in the knockouts.
A short statement on the Chelsea website read: “We would like to thank Kalidou for his contributions on and off the pitch during his time at Stamford Bridge and wish him well for the next stage of his career.”
As for Koulibaly’s new team, Al-Hilal finished third in the table this past season and their key players for the campaign included former Porto forward Moussa Marega and Saudi national team skipper Salem Al-Dawsari, who scored twice at the Qatar World Cup including the winner against Argentina. Former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo was also at the club last season but has now departed.