Maurizio Sarri made Kalidou Koulibaly sit on the bench for Napoli just hours after his son’s birth


Maurizio Sarri won’t have particularly fond memories of his 12 months at Chelsea.

Despite winning his first trophy as a manager at Stamford Bridge, the Italian never truly looked at home.

A proportion of fans who once lauded ‘Sarriball’ gradually began to criticise his philosophy as the season dragged on.

But less than three weeks after the end of the season, Chelsea confirmed they had reached an agreement with Juventus to facilitate Sarri’s return to Italy.

He takes charge of the Turin outfit under the expectation of delivering a ninth straight Serie A title next season, which would be some feat indeed.

It will require the 60-year-old to demand the same level of discipline as Kalidou Koulibaly claims he did at Napoli.

Speaking to the Players’ Tribune, the Senegal international described Sarri as a “very intense” manager who made the birth of his first son even more memorable than usual.

It began with Koulibaly receiving a phone call during a video analysis session in the lead-up to Napoli’s match against Sassuolo in 2016.

After initially hesitating to answer, he eventually picked up and was told his wife Charline was going into labour.

Most managers wouldn’t think twice about respecting a players’ wishes in such circumstances, but not Sarri.


“Sarri looks at me and says, ‘No, no, no. I need you tonight, Kouli. I really need you. You can’t go’, Koulibaly recalls.

“I say, ‘This is the birth of my son, Mister. You can do whatever you want to me. Fine me, suspend me, I don’t care. I am going.’

“Sarri looks so stressed, and he is smoking his cigarette. Smoking, smoking, thinking … then finally he says, ’O.K., O.K., you can go to the clinic. But you have to be back for the match tonight. I need you, Kouli!’”

Koulibaly made it to the hospital in time for the birth of Seni, but within hours, his phone was buzzing again.

It was Sarri, of course, hounding his star defender to get back to the Stadio San Paolo for Napoli’s pre-match warm-up.

This time with the permission of his wife, Koulibaly raced to the venue to join up with his teammates.

However, his devotion was met with a rather bewildering reward, courtesy of Sarri.

SSC Napoli v US Sassuolo - Serie A

“I am getting ready to play, and Sarri comes into the dressing room and puts up the team sheet. And I am looking… looking… looking,” Koulibaly said.

“My number is not there. I said, ‘Mister! Are you kidding me?’

“He said, ‘What? It is my choice.’

“I said, ‘Mister! My son! My wife! I left them! You said you needed me!’

“He said, ‘Yes, we need you on the bench.’”

Koulibaly was ‘needed’ to replace Vlad Chiriches for a grand total of 22 minutes towards the end of the 3-1 victory.

While Sarri has long been known for being particularly demanding of his players, this story is something else entirely.

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