Kalidou Koulibaly: Chelsea’s Senegal defender joins Saudi Pro League’s Al-Hilal

Kalidou Koulibaly has become the latest Chelsea player to move to Saudi Arabia after the defender completed a transfer to Al-Hilal for an undisclosed fee.

The centre-back, 32, joins Ruben Neves at the Saudi Pro League side following the Wolves midfielder’s £47m switch.

Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante has also agreed to sign for Saudi champions Al-Ittihad, while team-mate Edouard Mendy is close to joining Al-Ahli.

Koulibaly signed for Chelsea from Napoli last July on a four-year deal.

He arrived at Stamford Bridge with European and international experience, after helping Napoli win the Italian Cup in 2020 and Senegal claim the Africa Cup of Nations in 2022.

But he played just 32 games for the club in all competitions, scoring two goals in 23 Premier League appearances.

“From my first game to my last, it was an honour to wear this badge,” Koulibaly said on Twitter.

“Last season wasn’t the one we wanted, but I want to thank the fans and everyone at the club for your support.”

Chelsea did not disclose how much Al-Hilal have paid for Koulibaly – but reports suggest it could be as much as £20m .

Koulibaly’s arrival in Saudi Arabia follows a recent trend from European clubs that started with Cristiano Ronaldo’s switch from Manchester United to Al-Nassr in January.

Karim Benzema followed from Real Madrid to Al-Ittihad at the end of the season, while Arsenal’s Thomas Partey and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva have been heavily linked with a move in recent weeks.

The trend underlines the league’s ambition to be one of the top five in the world and follows a decision in June by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns Newcastle United, to take over four leading clubs in the country.

There is uncertainty over whether PIF holds a stake in Chelsea’s ultimate owners, the private equity firm Clearlake Capital, although club sources have rejected suggestions of any direct involvement.

Despite this, the club could well see four of its players join the Saudi Pro League by the end of the summer, with Morocco winger Hakim Ziyech also linked with a move.

These departures are part of a wider process going on behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge as new manager Mauricio Pochettino reshapes his squad.

Germany forward Kai Havertz is due to join Arsenal in a £65m deal and Manchester City have had a £30m bid accepted for Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic.

The Chelsea rebuild has also seen the arrival of France forward Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig, while Villarreal’s Senegal striker Nicolas Jackson reportedly had a medical in London this weekend before a move.

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