Manchester United will offer Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly an escape route away from Italy’s racists.
United have made the 27-year-old Senegal international a prime summer target after failing to land him before the start of the season. And they believe Koulibaly will this time attempt to force his departure from the Serie A club after being targeted by bigots.
The centre-back was sent off after being targeted by monkey chants when Napoli were beaten 1-0 at Inter Milan on Boxing Day.
Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti blamed the red card on the referee’s refusal to halt the game – and later gave his player his total backing when Koulibaly threatened to walk off the pitch if there was any repeat of the problem.
Napoli’s outspoken chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis has called on match officials to halt games if players are subjected to racist abuse from supporters. But right-wing politician Matteo Salvini, the Interior Minister of Italy, caused further outrage during the week when he urged Napoli not to walk off the pitch.
The issue has left Koulibaly devastated – and a move away from Italy now appears to be the most likely outcome.
De Laurentiis has ruled out the player’s departure during the January transfer market. He has claimed to have rejected a £95million bid from United in the summer – a declaration that has been denied at Old Trafford.
But while United sources insist their interest in Koulibaly never went beyond making an enquiry about a valuation, they have made signing the France-born defender a priority.
Napoli are already resigned to losing a player who cost just £6m when he arrived from Belgian club Genk almost five years ago, but De Laurentiis is renowned for being one of the toughest negotiators in football.
And reports from Spain that Real Madrid also want Koulibaly, who began his career with Metz before joining Genk in 2012, could open the kind of bidding war the Napoli chief will relish.
United are resolved to learn from the mistakes they have made during past transfer windows since David Gill stepped down as chief executive in the summer of 2013.
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Their scouts have been scouring Europe and drawing up wish-lists of players in every position. They have been regular visitors to Portugal to watch Porto’s Eder Militao and were in attendance when Porto beat Nacional 3-1 last Monday.
Militao, 20, is already a Brazilian international and is just five months into a five-year contract that includes a £45m buy-out clause.
Manchester City have also been monitoring the player, but their need for defensive reinforcements are less pressing now that they have opened talks with Vincent Kompany about extending his 10-year stay at the Etihad by a further 12 months.