On the pitch, Mali's Kalifa Coulibaly cuts a formidable figure. Roaming the front line with his towering frame, he wins balls with his head and chest, brings others into play, and fights for his team with a real purpose. Away from the heat of battle, however, you will find a shy and softly-spoken 19-year-old still coming to terms with his imposing physique and new-found fame.
Coulibaly was a stand-out performer in Mali’s opener against Korea Republic, along with team-mates Amara Malle and Cheick Fanta Mady Diarra. His numerous neat touches and passes proved in vain, though, as the Eagles fell to a 2-0 loss.
“I’m quite happy with my own performance, but the rain meant we weren’t able to convert our chances,” Coulibaly told FIFA.com, still able to take positives from the defeat. “It was a difficult match, as we’re not used to the climate and had problems catching our breath. The rain didn’t help either, and we made a few defensive errors.”
Despite his tender age, Coulibaly already has considerable experience. He began his career in his homeland with Real Bamako – one of Mali legend Salif Keita’s early clubs – before moving to French side Paris Saint-Germain in February. The powerful forward had a strong half-season with Bamako, before impressing at the CAF African Youth Championship in April this year. “I didn’t really count my goals at Bamako, but it seems I scored six times in five matches,” he revealed.
Coulibaly’s move to the French capital has not been straightforward, and his first step towards a deal was a trial with PSG in November. He explained: “We arrived in Paris and there was 15cm of snow everywhere. It was so cold!"
It was the first time Coulibaly had seen Paris – and snow for that matter – and the scale of the change in front of him quickly hit home. “It’s true that it was hard at first, arriving in the winter with all the snow,” he said. “But I’m getting used to it.”
Coulibaly has also been helped by the fact that he is not alone in his new adventure. Indeed, he attended the same trial as international team-mate Kalifa Traore, and the pair signed for PSG at the same time. “We live together in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, said Coulibaly. "He's a great friend."
He appears to be settling nicely into Parisian life so far, having scored twice in seven outings for the Paris Saint-Germain reserves.
Kanoute admiration, fixture confusion
'Boia', as Coulibaly is known to his Malian friends and international colleagues Adama Toure, Moussa Coulibaly and Kalifa Traore, names Frederic Kanoute as his football hero. What he admires in the Sevilla striker, perhaps unsurprisingly, is his modesty.
While many young players dream of having the dribbling skill of Cristiano Ronaldo or the effortless style of Lionel Messi, Coulibaly looks up to Kanoute for “the way he controls the ball” and “the quality of his passing”. “He works hard at what he does, which I admire,” he said. Indeed, the similarities between Coulibaly and his idol are striking.
In Coulibaly’s case, though, looks can sometimes be deceiving. Strong and powerful on the pitch, the youngster has a shy off-field demeanour. And while his early career has shown ambition and a clear focus, the No9 seems a little less up-to-speed with Mali’s next opponent in Colombia. The Eagles face the hosts in their next match, but Coulibaly is confident that “the second match is against France”.
In the end, all of that is immaterial. All Coulibaly wants is to score goals, regardless of the opponent in front of him. “We were clumsy against the Koreans, and we absolutely have to improve our finishing,” he concluded.