Riding through his home country of Senegal, professional footballer Kalidou Koulibaliy is seen hanging out a bus window, smiling, laughing, and soaking in the support of his people as they cheer their team and star player’s return from the AFCON finals in which they placed runner-up to Algeria. Koulibaly also plays for the Italian Serie A club S.S.C. Napoli. In his article published by The Players’ Tribune titled “We Are All Brothers”, he talks about being much more than a footballer. He says “If you look at me as a footballer, and not as Little Kouli, and not as your friend, then I have failed in life.” Further into the article he continues “I am Muslim, I am Senegalese. I am French. I am a Neapolitan. And I am a father.” Koulibaly is a force to be reckoned with on the pitch, but he is also a wonderful human being. A player that young children should truly aspire to.
Napoli have a lot of players who are nice guys. It’s what many Napoli fans have grown to appreciate about the club and its players. Perhaps their brand of delicacy is a smidgen on the plain side though. Perhaps, they could use a dash of hot sauce. A little edge to their game in the form of unwanted Inter Milan player, Mauro Icardi. Icardi who is one of the best in the world at his position has made a number of headlines the last few years and not for his ability on the pitch or his scoring prowess. Most recently, Icardi was stripped of his captaincy at Inter. Chief executive of the club Giuseppe Marotta said “It had more to do with the behavior on a daily basis rather than any one-off incidents, it’s a growth process”.
Certainly such statements will throw up a red flag for any club in need of a prolific striker, but the $100 million dollar talent has seen his value reduced to $50 – $60 million to compensate for his additional baggage. Icardi’s troubles extend back much further. Despite his talent, the Argentine national is often left off his home country’s team. Having taken fellow Argentine and Sampdoria teammate, Maxi Lopez’s wife, Icardi is not in favor with many of the Argentine top players, including the world renowned Lionel Messi.
At the extreme end of footballing fandom are the Ultras. These fans take their passion for their club to the uttermost levels, even resorting to violence at times. Following a game, Mauro Icardi attempted to give his jersey to a boy in the stands. An Ultra snatched the jersey away from the boy and Icardi let him and all the other Ultras know his displeasure with their behavior. The verbal tug-of-war between Icardi and the Ultras was taken so far, that Icardi threatened to bring 100 criminals from Argentina to kill them on the spot. If there was any tangible substance to the threat, who knows. Anything is possible in this sport, but what did ensue is the extent the press were willing to monopolize off of his comments and antics.
No doubt there are issues that come with the player and his troublesome agent and wife Wanda Icardi, but we Napoli fans have come to know Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis as a tough negotiator and no nonsense businessman. His leadership and authority is unquestioned. Paired with one of the greatest coaches in Carlo Ancelotti, the line of command is as strong as the volcano that marks the Neapolitan horizon. Ancelotti has dealt with far greater personalities during his time as manager. Need an example? Have a look at the ego Swedish national Zlatan Ibrahimović swings around on a daily basis. Besides, if the city of Naples can revere another great Argentine talent, Diego Maradona, as a god, with all of his negative flaws off the pitch, then there really is no reason not to give Icardi an opportunity.
Many great teams have that one player that has an edge. That kid from the alley with street fight in them. It’s that dash of hot sauce to give your otherwise plain chicken wing a bit of spice. Real Madrid have Sergio Ramos. Barcelona have Gerard Piqué. Juventus have, well, take your pick. As of this writing, the latter team, Juventus, may be in the pole position to add Icardi to their sauce collection. The point however would not be mute if that comes to fruition. Napoli could use a player with a bit of grinta. If Napoli are lucky enough to secure Icardi’s services and steal a desired player from their rival, then they would have the bad boy from Argentina at one end of the pitch and the ever smiling, humble, Senegalese Koulibaly at the other. The weights are balanced, and it is time for Napoli to bring home the hardware.