Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis says his club will not sign African players anymore unless they agree not to play in the African Cup of Nations.
The tournament takes place every two years and normally runs for a month from early January, midway through the season of Europe’s top leagues — apart from in 2019, when it was held from June to July for the first and so far only time.
“Enough with Africans, unless they renounce on playing the African Cup of Nations,” De Laurentiis said during a streamed event on Wall Street Italia.
“I will not buy them anymore for that reason. We pay their salaries to send them all over the world to play for others right in the middle of the season.”
Kalidou Koulibaly, a defender who moved from Napoli to Chelsea this summer, captained Senegal to its first African Cup title at the start of this year.
“For me the most important thing is to respect everybody,” Koulibaly said when asked about De Laurentiis’ comments on Wednesday.
“You cannot speak about the African national teams like this. You have to have respect like you have respect for the European national teams.”
Koulibaly said it was “a difficult moment” for Napoli during the AFCON tournament but that the comments were unfair.
“As captain of Senegal, I think that it’s not the good way to speak about African national teams, but I respect what he thinks. If he thinks that the team can play without African players, it’s up to him.”
The Chelsea center back said others in Napoli don’t support De Laurentiis’ viewpoint.
“Not everybody has the same idea as him in the club because I know everybody over there. The supporters don’t think like this. It’s not an idea of the society, of the city, because the city is very respectful. It’s what he thinks, not what the city thinks.”
Napoli still has three African players on its books: Nigeria forward Victor Osimhen, Cameroon midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Algeria midfielder Adam Ounas.
The African branch of FIFPro, the global group of player unions, said it was “shocked by the arrogance and contempt” of De Laurentiis.
“Rather than attacking African players, he must directly address and criticize those who design the calendar without taking into account the state of players,” the organization said in a tweet.