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'I couldn't believe it' - £8m Manchester United-linked defender on call from Rafael Benitez

Reported Manchester United target Kalidou Koulibaly has credited Rafael Benitez for his rise to prominence at Napoli.

For some time, sections of Napoli fans have been crying out for the club to sign a world-renowned centre-back to strengthen the club’s back-line.

Superb attacking talents the likes of Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi have all graced the San Paolo in recent years – but no defender of equal powers has.

Questions were raised when Argentina international Federico Fernandez was sold to Swansea this summer, a move which was seen to further weaken an already suspect unit.

Relatively unknown Kalidou Koulibaly had been brought in by coach Rafael Benitez from Genk for £8 million to replace him, something the Frenchman says he was surprised at himself.

Koulibaly told Canal Plus: “When I arrived in Italy, nobody knew me and they were doubting my skills. Then I rolled up my sleeves and I’m happy now, improving game after game."

“I didn’t expect the call from Napoli. I couldn’t believe it when Benitez called me. Rafa is a great coach; it was an amazing thing."

“He told me that he was interested in me and wanted me on his team, then I joined Napoli and I have to say that he helped me a lot, he knows what I need.”

After a rocky start for Koulibaly, he’s so far gotten one over on his doubters. The 23-year-old has been ever-present for Napoli as they’ve clawed their way back to third place in Serie A.

Koulibaly’s good form has reportedly even drawn the attention of Louis van Gaal, whose defence at United has been plagued by mistakes and injuries.

Despite the 23-year-old just having joined the Partenopei in the summer, the Red Devils boss was said to be weighing up a January move for his services.

Yet Koulibaly’s agent poured cold water on the rumours by saying that his client would reject any offer, unless Napoli had a mind to send him away.

The latter doesn’t seem to be the case with Napoli relying on his talents and Benitez a clear fan of the ex-Genk man, leaving United to look elsewhere for reinforcements.

Benitez looks to have unearthed a real gem in Koulibaly despite initial criticism, one that United may be ruing not getting their hands on first at this point.

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