Chelsea could have saved €150m heeding Benitez's advice

Stuart Telford
Stuart Telford
  • 2 Apr 2023 10:59 BST
  • 3 min read
Napoli contact Rafael Benitez over return

Former Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez had doubts about Kalidou Koulibaly suitability for the Premier League before he completed a €38 million move to Stamford Bridge from Napoli last summer.

Koulibaly was considered one of the best centre-backs in Italy if not the world across his eight seasons with Napoli and won the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal in 2021, but he has struggled to impress in West London.

There were already doubts about the Senegalese before Saturday's meeting with Aston Villa, but he was culpable for the opening goal in a 2-0 defeat, failing to communicate with Marc Cucurella after a routine ball over the top, which Olli Watkins raced onto to score.

READ: Koulibaly 'calm' over Chelsea future and defends 'great manager' Potter

Benitez - who managed Chelsea in the 2012/13 season - already had doubts about him.

"He must improve his concentration at times," the former Napoli manager said last summer. "He can be guilty of losing focus and can be overconfident…"

"Is he a little bit too nice? We'll see what happens at Chelsea. In Italy he was fine because he was so quick, but I doubt he'll be so dominant over here. Aerial ability wasn't his biggest strength but in Italy that mattered a bit less and he was okay."

Benitez's words will feel eerily prescient for those of a Chelsea persuasion.

READ: Josko Gvardiol drops major Chelsea transfer hint

Gvardiol solution

Koulibaly was signed as a replacement for Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, who left on free transfers for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, but they remain in the market for a centre-back, with Josko Gvardiol their top target.

The left footer has impressed with RB Leipzig over the last two seasons, but his asking price skyrocketed after he starred in helping Croatia reach the semi-finals of the winter World Cup in Qatar.

Now valued at €70m by FootballTransfers' in-house algorithm, Leipzig inserted a €110m release clause when he signed fresh terms in September, and they are optimistic this will be met with Real Madrid also pursuing his signature.