Chelsea ponied up £32 million to sign N’Golo Kante from Leicester City, but it could end up being a relatively low cost for the Blues in order to shore up the midfield.
Kante, 25, had a phenomenal first season in the Premier League with Leicester after joining the Foxes last summer for a modest £5.6 million from Ligue 1 side SM Caen. In the span of a season, he played a big part in Leicester winning the Premier League title, along with cementing a place on the French national team.
Chelsea had a horrible title defense last season and finished in an embarrassing 10th place, making them the worst reigning champions in Premier League history. Nemanja Matic was the defensive midfielder that the club leaned on during their title win in 2014/15, but the Serbian international failed to replicate those performances last season as his play took a nosedive. After Jose Mourinho was let go, interim manager Guus Hiddink turned to Jon Obi Mikel to take Matic’s role, and the Nigerian did a solid job as Chelsea looked a lot better in the second half of the season.
But none of them can really compare with Kante when you look more closely at the numbers. Kante led the Premier League in tackles (175) and interceptions (156), along with being fourth in duels won (277) and sixth in recoveries (326).
Kante has come out of nowhere to become the best defensive midfielder in the league, maybe even one of the best in Europe, and new manager Antonio Conte and the Chelsea fans will hope that he becomes the new Claude Makelele, who dominated the position between 2003-2008 for the Blues and set the standard for the defensive midfield role.
It’s a big step for Kante to take, as expectations will be huge at Stamford Bridge, but with the experience of playing for France in Euro 2016 and picking up the league trophy with Leicester, he should be able to cope with the pressure.
“I am so happy to have signed for one of the biggest clubs in Europe,” Kante told Chelsea’s official website after signing a five-year contract. “It’s a dream come true for me.
“The opportunity to work with Antonio Conte, a brilliant coach, and some of the best players in the world was simply too good to turn down.
“My first season in English football was very special and now I hope to go on to achieve even more during my time as a Chelsea player. I am looking forward to meeting up with my new team-mates and helping the club achieve a lot of success.”
With the addition of Kante and Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi, new manager Antonio Conte is already putting his fingerprints on the squad as he looks to bring them back into title contention. And Conte was quick to praise the skilled Frenchman.
“I want to say Kante was a target and for this reason I’m very happy the club bought the player,” Conte told Sky Sports. “He’s a good player. He has good technique, fantastic stamina and I like this type of player.
“If you want to win a team needs this type of player – Kante, [Nemanja] Matic and [John Obi] Mikel – that work hard for the team.
“We identified him, me and the club together, and I think Kante can give a lot to Chelsea, to enforce a zone which is very important if we want to play with two central midfielders. He showed last season he’s able to play with another midfielder. I think with this player we’ve reinforced the squad.”
Just saying that they have reinforced the squad feels like an understatement. With Kante, and no European cup play, Chelsea should be in the title conversation. Kante was the signing of the season last year, and he might very well end up being the signing of the season this year as well.