Over the last few seasons, Kalidou Koulibaly’s stock has risen in the European game. The Senegalese international’s performances for Napoli have been attracting enough attention to prove just that. And he deserves all of it, even the recent interest from Real Madrid.

It is the timing of this interest that comes at a crucial time. Napoli’s situation has become toxic. After the players did not report to the ‘ritiro’ after a Champions League game against Salzburg, havoc has ensued. President Aurelio de Laurentiis has been clear about docking wages of players, with fans turning against the players and the president himself.

Reports have also said that De Laurentiis could be willing to sell several players. That includes Koulibaly himself, along with the likes of Allan, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon. It shows that the situation at the Stadio San Paolo isn’t stable by any means. But other clubs could be licking their lips at the prospect of Napoli potentially losing their best players.

Koulibaly is likely to attract maximum attention. And that is why the timing of Real’s reported interest is crucial. But if there is interest, Koulibaly should not take up that option.

There is no doubting Real’s stature. With Zinedine Zidane back at the helm, the Los Blancos could well be charting a rise back to the top. They are in the next round of the UEFA Champions League and are only behind Barcelona on goal difference in the La Liga. These are promising times for Real fans, unlike how things were last season.

On paper, Koulibaly’s stature matches that of Real. But do they really need him? That is where doubts will crop up.

In the summer transfer window, De Laurentiis was clear that Koulibaly won’t go cheap. He talked of previously rejecting a huge offer for the central defender.

He told Sky Italia (via AS):  “I loved Koulibaly the man so I refused €105million, but a time will come when I’ll have to sell him. Whoever says we didn’t improve our defence is wrong.”

It shows that any offers of below €100 million won’t prise Koulibaly away. As things stand, Real don’t have a vacancy in that position either. Clubs only spent that much money if there is a dire need for a player in that position. Like what Manchester United did for Harry Maguire this past summer.

Club captain Sergio Ramos is still 33 and has 2-3 years of first-team football left in him. It could be even more. Raphael Varane 26 and is yet to possibly peak. This trio has been the club’s first-choice at the back this season and has been there for the last 2-3 years now. There is every chance they carry for another few years.

Eder Militao was roped in from Porto this past summer. The defender, who is versatile enough to play at centre-back and right-back, has played only five times in all competitions. But he was an investment for the future.

Nacho Fernandez is out till the end of the year due to an MCL injury. And at 29, he can still do a job in any part of the defence. If he can’t and is sold at any point, Real will not want a defender who can match Koulibaly’s stature. They will want someone who can play as second-fiddle to the other first-team options.

Going for a player like Koulibaly, in that case, will be contradictory. For him, there will be many more options. Manchester City are off the pace because of unreliable defending and Aymeric Laporte’s injury. That is the sort of situation Koulibaly needs to go into. Or he could be making the biggest mistake of his career.

Kaustubh Pandey