Chelsea’s quest to buy a new center back seems to have suffered another setback as reports from Italy have emerged today claiming that Napoli have stepped up their efforts to agree on a new contract with Kalidou Koulibaly.
After playing a bit of hardball, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has had a change of heart and is apparently willing to offer improved terms to the the 25-year-old Senegalese international, who’s developed into a key member of Napoli’s defense over the last two years.
...serenity has now returned between both parties [...] no agreement [but] there is optimism that an agreement will be found as both parties are set to meet again soon.
-source: Gianluca Di Marzio
There’s little doubt that, when it’s all said and done, losing Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus will have played a role in this change of heart from the Napoli leadership. Losing both their best striker and their best defender would not play well with their ambitions, or their fans for that matter. De Laurentiis may be annoying, but he’s not stupid. (Plus, with the Higuain money, he now has plenty of funds to pay Koulibaly.)
Where does this leave Chelsea? Unless we step up our efforts here (and thanks to Everton’s meddling, the fees rumored for Koulibaly were already outrageous), the Blues will have to look elsewhere. Roma’s Manolas and Rüdiger both seem to be off the market (and the latter has a long-term injury anyway). We missed the boat on Mehdi Benatia and never had a chance with Mats Hummels. Leonardo Bonucci was and remains a pipe-dream. Valencia’s Shkodran Mustafi was rumored for a minute, but they just lost Andre Gomes, and the story was that they would sell one of the two, but not both.
Benfica’s Victor Lindelöf appears to be the most realistic target at the moment, but while he does have a €30m buyout clause, paying that much for a 22-year-old with less than a year of professional football at the top level is a huge gamble.
The reports of Conte wanting Chelsea to make a handful of new signings still may or may not be true, but reinforcing the defense has been a priority since the start of the off-season. There’s still plenty of time to get something done of course, but unless we’re working on something in secret in the background, the situation doesn’t look too promising at the moment.