Kalidou Koulibaly has defended his Chelsea spell after sealing his move away from the club, claiming he was let down by decisions of the ‘coaches and the club’ and given no guarantees over playing time.
The Senegalese star completed his move to Saudi Pro League team Al-Hilal on Sunday, leaving west London only one year on from his £32m arrival from Napoli.
Tasked with filling the void left by the departures of Rudiger and Christensen, Koulibaly struggled in what was a poor season for the club, playing under three managers in Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard.
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His arrival at Chelsea was followed by those of Wesley Fofana and Badiashile and with Levi Colwill primed for a first-team role under Pochettino, Kouliably was deemed surplus to requirements after the conclusion of the 2022-23 campaign.
Having sealed his transfer move to Saudi Arabia, the central defender has now conceded he was not happy with his bench role at Chelsea – starting just 20 of their 38 league games.
He also insisted the ‘coach’s and club’s choices’ prevented him from recapturing his best form in the Premier League, moving on to ensure he is playing regularly ahead of Senegal’s Africa Cup of Nations campaign at the start of next year.
‘I had no guarantees to get regular playing time [at Chelsea], I was always professional but I don’t like to sit on the bench doing nothing,” the defender said in an interview with Corriere dello Sport.
‘I prefer a place where I am wanted and at the centre of the project and can be an example for young players.
‘The Premier League is fantastic and there are great players. They expected the Koulibaly of Napoli, but I think my season was not so bad.
‘I needed time and in one year I couldn’t prove what I wanted because of the coach’s and club’s choices.
‘I am happy with what I learned about my limits, my family and my kids.
‘My time had come and I had to make a decision. My teammates sent me so many messages, they are all sorry, but I have to prepare for the AFCON.
‘It’s the most important thing for me, Senegal want to win again, but it won’t be easy.’