Can Kante capture be Chelsea’s best midfield move since Makelele?
Holly Thackeray | July 15, 201
Chelsea have completed the signing of Leicester City midfield marshal N’Golo Kante, for a fee in the region of £29m, the club confirmed on Twitter, after complications with the original mooted £20m release clause.
The defensive, disrupting influence becomes the Blues’ second big signing of the summer so far after Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi arrived for around £30m, as new coach Antonio Conte continues to build a title challenging squad.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) July 16, 2016
With this swoop for one of the Foxes’ key figures in their Premier League winning campaign, Conte has clearly attempted to address defensive midfield – an area which has seen many ins and outs at Stamford Bridge over recent years.
In fact, it just so happens that the shielding star most associated with the screening position in the centre of the park is a former Blue in Claude Makelele – another France international like Kante who made the role his own.
After arriving at the Bridge in 2003 for what, in more mirroring of this recent move, turned out to be a bargain price of £16m from Real Madrid, Makelele excelled while patrolling the engine room.
Since that signing, however, Chelsea (11/2 with Coral to win the FA Cup) have tried and failed to find an heir to the shielding role despite shelling out on a further 13 midfielders to operate in deep or anchoring positions.
Chelsea deep midfield signings since Makelele:
- Scott Parker (£10m, January 2004)
- Tiago Mendes (£10m, July 2004)
- Jiri Jarosik (£3m, January 2005)
- Lassana Diarra (£1m, July 2005)
- Michael Essien (£24.4m, August 2005)
- Nuno Maniche (Loan, January 2006)
- John Obi Mikel (£4m, June 2006)
- Ramires (£10m, August 2010)
- Raul Meireles (£12m, July 2011)
- Oriol Romeu (£4.35m, August 2011)
- Marco van Ginkel (£8m, July 2013)
- Nemaja Matic (£21m, January 2014)
- Cesc Fabregas (£27m, June 2014)
- Quoted fees are reported
Of course, while the likes of Fabregas may sit deeper spraying passes, those from the list above brought to the Bridge to add bite, such as Diarra and Mikel, have failed to emulate esteemed Frenchman Makelele.
Can Kante, who emerged after signing for Leicester from Ligue 1 Caen last summer, be a tonic for the Stamford Bridge support and reach the same key status as his renowned compatriot for the capital club?
Kante to be battleaxe Blues are missing
To be spoken about with the same reverence as often understated Makelele, who relied more upon his intelligence and timing to intercept and predict opposition moves when compared to energetic, pitch-covering Kante, the 25-year-old will have to keep imposing himself on Premier League games and beyond.
More of an organiser, keeping calm and collected, authoritative and multi-dimensional Makelele had more tools in his locker than just tackling, and was also a precise passer of the ball and able to astutely spring and instigate attacks from deep.
Of course, the Blues have Matic to cover that aspect of play, though the Serbia shield appears to have an uncertain future under Conte. The pair could control many midfield battles together, however, with Kante’s athleticism in the engine room a perfect foil for the silkier Matic. It worked that way in the Midlands, when Kante could rely on Danny Drinkwater.
Where would this leave string puller Fabregas, however? Surely one will have to be benched. In that respect, Kante could well have to take on more duties than he did at the King Power Stadium, where his general briefing seemed to be to cause havoc.
Not usually one for goals or assists, Kante will not be expected to start chipping in with better stats, but the former Foxes defensive dynamo will have to adapt to a situation where his energy may have to be harnessed.
Chelsea will be expected to dominate the majority of their matches, unlike Leicester who mainly played on the counter, which should truly test his ability to keep and recycle possession successfully, and also consistently contribute to positive play.
Conte is a canny coach, however, and confidence should be had that he will play to Kante’s strengths. Strangely for a Jose Mourinho team last term, the Blues truly lacked bite, with both Matic and Fabregas off their game and Mikel looking like a spent force.
So, there is call for a Kante type, to perform the battleaxe role and stop the opposition from settling, just as he did so successfully for Claudio Ranieiri last term. With arguably more direction under tactical Conte, it will be up to the mooted £29m man to either sink or swim under the pressures of expectation and responsibility.
France future could be boosted by Blues
Now Kante has signed on the dotted line for Chelsea, the bigger exposure at a giant club, despite Leicester being able to offer Champions League football, can only be a good thing for Kante’s France international career.
After his dominating performances in the middle of the park last campaign, Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps had no choice but to include the surprise star in his squad – with Morgan Schneiderlin of Manchester United the one to miss out originally before resurgent Diarra’s injury blow.
Kante has taken to international football just as he did to life with the Foxes – like a duck to water, and it is this ability to keep improving with every new challenge which bodes well for the Blues recruit.
However, Conte still has some work to do – as Kante is not quite the finished article. In the first few Euro 2016 outings, Kante was an excellent performer, before struggling when France needed to break sides such as Switzerland, with the Paris-born bruiser acting as the deepest midfielder with Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi further forward on box-to-box duty.
Aptly enough, Kante picked up a suspension so could not feature in the quarter-finals, with Moussa Sissoko parachuted into the XI for the rout, and another former France and Chelsea defensive midfielder in Deschamps opted not to restore the now ex-Leicester man to the starting side for the rest of the tournament
So, just as with Makelele, perhaps Kante should be allowed to become a master of his craft and not required to take on other tasks. Though, if Kante replicates his compatriot’s haul of two Premier League titles, two League Cup trophies and an FA Cup Chelsea fans won’t be complaining.
As for the man Makelele himself, he had this to say: “I don’t want Kante to be compared with me. Kante can be Kante. I want him to be more than me.
“He still has the same way of playing, the same happiness, but he needs to play in a big team.”
Makelele may not want to make comparisons, but his have proven big shoes to fill, so this likening to a true master of his trade may be something Kante has to get used to.
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