Aurelio De Laurentiis, the Napoli president, has stated that his team will no longer sign African players unless they agree to forego competing in the African Cup of Nations.
The African football championship is held every two years and typically lasts for a month starting in early January, midway through the season of Europe’s top divisions- except in 2019, when the tournament was held from June to July.
De Laurentiis expressed his sentiment during a streamed event on Wall Street Italia: “Enough with Africans unless they give up on playing the African Cup of Nations.”
He then indicated that because of that, Napoli will not sign African players anymore. We pay their wages to send them to play elsewhere in the middle of the season.”
Senegal’s team that won the first-ever African Cup of Nations title for the country was captained by Kalidou Koulibaly, a defender who transferred from Napoli to Chelsea this summer.
Koulibaly and Anguissa, two crucial Napoli team members, were absent for the team’s last season’s Serie A draw with Juventus and Coppa Italia elimination at the hands of Fiorentina, yet the team still managed to win four league games without them.
“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 criticised the Napoli president saying it was indeed 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 a 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 believes De Laurentiis’ point of view is not shared by everybody at the club and is not a reflection of the society, the city, because the city is very respectful to everyone.
Three African players are still on Napoli’s roster: midfielder Adam Ounas from Algeria, striker Victor Osimhen from Nigeria, and midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa from Cameroon.
The African branch of FIFPro, the global world players union, said it was “shocked by the arrogance and contempt” of Aure De Laurentiis.
“Rather than attacking African players, he should directly address and criticize those who design the calendar without taking into account the state of players,” in a tweet.