Speaking in an exceptional exclusive interview with L’Équipe Magazine, Napoli central defender Kalidou Koulibaly explains his origins.
Your origins have been disrespected in several Italian stadiums. What are they exactly?
My dad left Senegal for France in the 1970s to look for work, because he needed to be part of a workforce. Over the course of five years, he worked in Paris in a peanut factory which then closed down. Then he moved to the Vosges region to work in a sawmill as a specialised worker. As soon as his situation allowed him to, he brought my mother over. They had three sons, I was the second one. I was born in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, where, owing to word-of-mouth, there is a big Senegalese-Fula community. During my childhood, we spoke Fula in the streets. The Senegalese who arrived had admiration for this because they thought we only spoke French. I grew up with two cultures and was bathed in diversity from my birth onwards, that was important for me.
Saint-Dié-des-Vosges is a small town with 22,000 inhabitants at the foot of the Vosges region…
A familial town and very nice, where everyone knows everyone. It will stay with my heart forever, I still have all my friends from there, my parents still live there. I try to bring them something but it is difficult with the distance. I receive news from the mayor. I grew up in a mixed cultural context: in my primary school, there were 50% native born French people and 50% guys with origins from abroad. It was an environment that allowed me to grow up more quickly and helped me to understand others more quickly. I would often go and see a Turkish friend, I was at his place as if it was my own home, I learnt his culture and vice versa. Subconsciously, I was preparing myself for the future. Today, I thank them because it turned me into the man that I am.
Apparently a big memory for you was France vs Senegal (0-1) in the 2002 World Cup, a win against the world champions.
I experienced the France World Cup win in 1998. I supported Deschamps, Zidane, Blanc and Desailly, we had a party in the centre of town with horns/klaxons. In 2002, it was a bit strange: I was still supporting France, but I was also following Senegal’s progress, who had just lost in the final of AFCON six months prior against Cameroon. It was a school day (France vs Senegal), I was in CM2 (Year 6). My teacher, who was also one of my coaches, told us to open our books to study, we were all disappointed.
Then, he said to us that we were going to learn a different type of lesson and he put the TV on! It was just before the national anthems, we watched the match. It remains one of my best memories of my childhood. I was trying to be impartial during the match but I won’t hide that I was very happy with the result. We celebrated that in the streets all together, we would dance in the middle of the streets, even with supporters of the French national team. That was not common. It was also a light bulb moment in my life, I was understanding things even better.