Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly recalled a time he suffered racist abuse by Italian football fans which left him feeling “ashamed” and called for change.
Koulibaly has starred over at Napoli for the past five years, where he’s established himself as one of the world’s finest centre-backs.
The Senegal international will even have a buy-out clause of €150m inserted into his Napoli contract from next summer. Therefore, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly plotting moves for this transfer window.
Despite his growing status, though, the French-born Koulibaly has found himself to be no exception when it comes to Italian fans racially abusing him.
On December 26, Inter Milan supporters made monkey noises and other racist chants at him. Instead of taking action against the fans, however, the Italian authorities opted to keep Koulibaly’s two-match suspension after he was sent off during the encounter.
Now, the Senegalese defender has recalled his first experience of racial abuse, which came at the hands of Lazio fans in February 2016.
“I realised some Lazio fans were making monkey noises whenever I touched the ball,” Koulibaly told the Players’ Tribune.
“It is impossible to know what you are supposed to do in this moment. There were times when I wanted to walk off the pitch to make a point, but then I told myself that this is exactly what they want.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why do they do this? Because I am black? Is it not normal to be a black guy in this world?’
“You are just playing the game you love, like you have done a thousand times before. You feel hurt. You feel insulted. Honestly, it gets to a point where you feel practically ashamed of yourself.”
The 28-year-old then recalled a young boy’s reaction as he gave him his shirt at the end of the game.
“This really affected me a lot,” continued Koulibaly.
“This little guy was apologising for I don’t know how many grown men. And this was the first thing he thinks about — how I was feeling.
“This is the spirit of a child. This is what we are missing in the world right now. I know that these incidents are not just happening because of skin colour.
“I hear what some fans call my teammates, too. They call the Serbian players ‘gypsies,’ they call even an Italian like Lorenzo Insigne ‘Neapolitan sh*t.’
“We need to do better. An incident happens, the clubs make a nice statement, and then it happens again.
“In England, we see how much has changed. When the person is identified, they are banned from the stadium forever. I hope that one day it is the same in Italy.
“But I also think of the people doing this. How can you make the people change? How can you reach them in their heart? I do not have the answers for this.”