New Chelsea signing Kalidou Koulibaly has appeared to hit back at his former Napoli boss over remarks about not signing African players if they plan to play in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Koulibaly, who captained Senegal to their first Afcon title in February, spent eight years at Napoli before joining Chelsea last month in a deal reported to be worth £34 million ($40.6m).
Shortly before Koulibaly's first press conference as a Chelsea player on Wednesday, Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis said he would think twice about recruiting any more African players, unless they committed to not playing at Afcon.
"Don't talk to me about Africans anymore," Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis told Wall Street Italia. "I wish them well, but either they sign a waiver for the African Cup or else. Between that tournament and the World Cup qualifiers in South America, these players are never available!"
Koulibaly hit back by saying African nations deserved more respect, telling reporters: "Nobody will ever tell me not to go to Afcon or something like this.
"Maybe sometimes they try to ask my manager, but me, now as captain of Senegal, when Afcon comes I have to be the first one there, the first one in Senegal."
Koulibaly, who has signed a four-year contract with Chelsea following the purchase of the club by US businessman Todd Boehly's consortium, added: "Nobody can tell me not to go to my national team. I have a lot of love for my national team, the team that I play for.
"So, if someone told me to do that, it would be the only time that I can fight with somebody. The way we feel all the time with my national team, we are all respectful, we wait for players to come from the Premier League, and everybody is happy to be here.
"Everybody thinks the same as me in the national team. If someone told them not to come they would always fight to come. This is the most important thing. Everybody has to give us respect."
Koulibaly's move to Chelsea has bolstered a defence now without Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen after they left Stamford Bridge for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively this summer.
The 31-year-old centre-back will wear the No 26 shirt made famous by Chelsea great John Terry having sought permission from the Blues legend.
"I called John and at the beginning he didn't believe it was me, he thought it was a joke," Koulibaly said. "So he called the team manager to ask if it was really me.
"I know that it's a very important number for John, but it's also a very important number for me too, because I took it at Napoli.
"And when he said yes I was very happy, because I know what he did for the club and for the supporters here. I wanted to tell everybody that I asked him before, because I didn't want to disrespect a legend of the club."
Koulibaly also revealed he was close to signing for Chelsea in 2015 but Napoli did not allow him to leave the Serie A side at that time.
Koulibaly said Antonio Conte – now at the helm of Tottenham Hotspur but manager at Chelsea at that time – had tried to sign him after his first year with Napoli.
"I asked respectfully to the owner that I wanted to leave for Chelsea but he told me that it wouldn't be possible," he said. "So I waited a bit and continued my conversation with them but they really didn't want me to leave the club so I decided to renew my contract to stay in Napoli.
"For me it was a bit hard to say no because it was my dream to play in the Premier League since I was a child."
After realising his childhood dream, Koulibaly's position at Chelsea meant his prospects of being in a trophy-winning team were stronger. Although Napoli came close to clinching the Serie A title under Maurizio Sarri, Koulibaly lifted only one Italian Cup while at the club.
"With my personal experience, I know you don't have to give a limit to your dream and my dream is to win everything with Chelsea," he said.
"I know it will be difficult. I don't come with arrogant behaviour. I come with respect, a lot of respect for everybody, but I know Chelsea is a big team and a team that has to win, that's used to winning."