Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly completes transfer to Al-Hilal in Saudi Pro League

Senegal´s defender Kalidou Koulibaly (L) greets Brazil´s defender Eder Militao during the international friendly football match between Brazil and Senegal at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon on June 20, 2023.—AFP 

Kalidou Koulibaly, the Senegalese defender for Chelsea, has become the latest player to join the Saudi Pro League, completing his move to Al-Hilal for an undisclosed fee. 

The 32-year-old centre-back follows in the footsteps of Ruben Neves, who recently transferred from Wolves to the same league in a £47 million deal.

N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s midfielder, has also agreed to join Saudi champions Al-Ittihad, while Edouard Mendy, the team’s goalkeeper, is on the verge of signing with Al-Ahli. Koulibaly joined Chelsea from Napoli last July, signing a four-year contract. He brought European and international experience to Stamford Bridge, having helped Napoli secure the Italian Cup in 2020 and Senegal claim the Africa Cup of Nations title in 2022.

During his time with Chelsea, Koulibaly made 32 appearances across all competitions, scoring two goals in 23 Premier League games. Expressing his gratitude to the club and its supporters, Koulibaly took to Twitter, saying, “From my first game to my last, it was an honour to wear this badge. Last season wasn’t the one we wanted, but I want to thank the fans and everyone at the club for your support.”

Although Chelsea did not disclose the exact transfer fee, reports suggest that Al-Hilal could have paid as much as £20 million for Koulibaly’s services. His move to Saudi Arabia follows a growing trend of European players making similar transfers, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s move from Manchester United to Al-Nassr in January sparking the trend. Karim Benzema also joined Al-Ittihad from Real Madrid at the end of the season, while Thomas Partey from Arsenal and Bernardo Silva from Manchester City have been linked with potential moves to the league.

This trend highlights the Saudi Pro League’s ambition to become one of the top five leagues in the world. In June, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns Newcastle United, took over four leading clubs in the country. Although there is uncertainty regarding PIF’s stake in Chelsea’s ultimate owners, the private equity firm Clearlake Capital, club sources have dismissed any direct involvement.

With the potential departures of Hakim Ziyech and other players, Chelsea is undergoing a significant squad reshaping under new manager Mauricio Pochettino. The club has already seen Germany forward Kai Havertz agree to join Arsenal in a £65 million deal, while Manchester City’s bid of £30 million for Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic has been accepted. As part of the rebuild, Chelsea has also welcomed France forward Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig, and Villarreal’s Senegalese striker Nicolas Jackson is rumoured to be undergoing a medical in London this weekend ahead of his move.

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