New Chelsea signing Kalidou Koulibaly has revealed how he phoned John Terry to ask for his squad number, quizzed Gianfranco Zola on the club before joining and was persuaded to make the move by friends and family, including two of his Blues team-mates.
The defender completed his transfer from Napoli during our pre-season tour of the USA, becoming our second arrival of the summer after Raheem Sterling.
Speaking to the media at Cobham for the first time since that move, the Senegalese international explained how he did his research through Chelsea legend Zola, before asking Terry’s permission to take the No26 shirt which has been vacant since the former captain’s departure five years ago.
Thankfully Terry is happy for his successor to wear that shirt, even if he initially needed a bit more persuading that the phone call wasn’t some kind of prank.
‘I wanted to know which numbers were free and speaking to the team manager he told me some numbers and he didn’t tell me the 26,’ explained Koulibaly. ‘I asked him for the 26 and he told me John left it in 2017 and nobody took it from this time. So I was a bit asking myself: “is it retired or maybe nobody wanted to take it?”
‘I know Gianfranco Zola very well because we have the same person working for our business in Italy. I talked to him because he told me the story of Chelsea. I have to know everything when I go somewhere so I asked him a lot of questions about the club, about the structure, about the supporters. Then I asked him for John’s number, because I wanted to ask him about the jersey.
‘He gave me his direct number and at the beginning when I called him he didn’t believe that it was me, he believed that it was a joke, so he put down the phone and called the team manager to ask if it’s really me.
‘After I asked him very respectfully if I could take his jersey number. I know that it’s a number that’s very important for him. It’s also a very important number for me, because I took it when I went to Napoli and I wanted to keep it for here at Chelsea. When he told me “yes” I was very happy because I know what he did for the club, I know what he did for the supporters, what he did for the city here. So I knew it was important to ask him first because I don’t want to be disrespectful with a legend of the club.’
It wasn’t just former Blues who helped persuade Koulibaly that Chelsea was the right club for him either. The 31-year-old knows Edouard Mendy well from their time together with the Senegal national team, especially after Koulibaly captained them to glory at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, while he spent several years as a team-mate of Jorginho’s at Napoli.
He remains good friends with both and confirmed they had been eager to persuade him to join them at Stamford Bridge.
‘Edou is a brother for me. We talk a lot about Chelsea when we are with the national team, like I talk a lot about Napoli. When he was on vacation he sent me a few messages saying to come and play with him at Chelsea and Jorginho did the same, so I had double pressure on me. But it was not bad pressure, it was friendly because I like them, they are very nice guys.
‘I am used to having good moments with Jorginho at Napoli, we spent a lot of years together, win some matches together, we were used to being together every day and when he asked me to come to Chelsea I was not sure because I did not know if the owner wanted me to come or not.
'But it started with Jorginho and after Edou all the time was speaking to me and after we won the AFCON together and I had the opportunity to join him here I was really happy. In the last weeks we were always speaking because he wanted to know if I would come or not and when I told him that I signed we were really happy, because all our families can spend more time together here in London.
‘And with Jorginho because I missed him a lot. When he left Napoli I lost something but now I’m here with him so I’m really happy to be with those guys and everybody with the team gave me a good welcome. So I’m really happy to be here.’
If the blessing of two Chelsea legends and persuasion of two current Blues wasn’t enough, it appears it was the unquestioned desire the club’s new owners showed in wanting to bring him to Stamford Bridge and be successful here which convinced Koulibaly beyond doubt this was the right move for him.
‘They gave me a big good impression because when I talked with the owner he told me he wanted me to play for Chelsea. At the start we didn’t have a big discussion, he just told me he wanted me to play for Chelsea, that he wanted me to be part of this scenario.
‘It’s true that it’s a big transition and everybody has to adapt. Maybe I’m new at this club but everything is new for everybody here because there is a new owner and the owner is doing everything to make the team competitive in every game. So I think it will take time but the time will be good for everybody to adapt and I think it will be a good future for Chelsea.’
However, the list of people who were eager to see Koulibaly in a Chelsea shirt seems to go on and on, with his own brother and seemingly every football fan in Senegal excited by the prospect, meaning the defender has been left in no doubt his summer move was a wise decision given the reaction he has seen.
‘I had pressure also off my brother, because he’s a big fan of the Blues from when we were children. He would watch the games and he would get me to watch Chelsea’s games, so when I signed here he was the first one happy.
‘I think this helped me a lot and when I saw all the Senegalese people happy I signed for Chelsea and I got a message from Moussa Sow, a big friend of Demba Ba, telling me Demba is really happy I signed here, I was really certain of my choice.
‘Now I play with Edou for the national team and here at Chelsea, we all love Chelsea in Senegal now. Also in Naples, because when I signed here even the Napoli supporters said that they will support Chelsea.
‘So I’m really happy with my choice and I’m really happy that I bring a lot of love with me. This was really important for me.’