The fanfare surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival on a free to Manchester United was more than merited; how often do players of that standard and profile move on free transfers? Yet despite this so called bargain, it seems Chelsea may have pulled off the transfer of the summer, signing Leicester’s N’Golo Kante for £30m.
A key component in Leicester City’s remarkable title winning season, Kante’s move to Chelsea could prove Antonio Conte’s most crucial this summer as he looks to reignite a squad that seemingly fell asleep at the wheel of their title defence last term.
The defensive midfielder joined Leicester City from Caen last summer for £6m and went on to make 40 appearances for Claudio Ranieri’s side, so for the Frenchman to leave 12 months later for a profit of £26m, with plenty suggesting that The Foxes could have demanded more, is proof of the strides he made last season.
Upon completing the move from the King Power Stadium to Stamford Bridge, Kante, 25, said:
“I am so happy to have signed for one of the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “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.”
And new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte was was also delighted that the club were able to get their man, beating off Real Madrid and a mega money offer from China:
“I want to say Kante was a target and for this reason I’m very happy the club bought the player. He’s a good player. He has good technique, fantastic stamina and I like this type of player. 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.”
Last term Chelsea’s frailties in the middle of the park were exposed as Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas failed to replicate the form that saw Chelsea become Champions in 2015 under Jose Mourinho, and with Conte demanding a high intensity playing style for 95 minutes, it was expected that the Italian would seek to find reinforcements in that area.
Kante will certainly offer energy and bite in the centre of midfield, the France international displayed stellar performances week in week out last season where he was the base of the midfield to protect the centre half pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.
Last season Chelsea’s centre half pairings were left exposed at the best of times, allowing sides to penetrate through the middle time after time. The Frenchman became a master of breaking up the play and manipulate the ball for the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy time after time and Conte will be hoping for the same this term.
Chelsea are blessed with world class talent throughout with the likes of Costa, Hazard, Willian, Fabregas although they missed a player with the qualities that Kante possess who can sit and allow the attacking players to flourish.
Last season Wes Morgan said, ‘He has so much energy, at times you think there’s two of him’. Previously Chelsea had Nemanja Matic to fulfil this role, terrorising midfielders when he initially rejoined the club from Benfica in January 2014. But last season we saw Matic go off the boil. His partner Fabregas was one of the better players in the second half of the season under Guus Hiddink, but the opening months made it evident that the Spaniard needs someone to compliment his ability on the ball.
We’ve seen in the past the influence Fabregas can have on a team when on song, so the signing of Kante could see the return of 2014/15 Fabregas where he was able to shine picking up the ball from deep, in space or higher up the pitch to find the likes of Hazard and co.
It’s still early days in the transfer window although the significance of Kante to Chelsea could be crucial, an outstanding debut season in the Premier League has been rewarded with a move to Chelsea but can the Frenchman become a key player in Conte’s mission to bring Chelsea back to the summit.