?As he celebrates his 29th birthday, it’s hard to believe that N’Golo Kanté’s career has actually been real and not just a Hollywood film.
Until 2015, he was a complete nobody. No one outside France knew who he was (and many in France probably didn’t either), but just one year later he was the name on everybody’s lips after leading Leicester City to the most unlikely Premier League title ever.
He landed a £32m move to Chelsea in 2016, and while Leicester struggled without him, the Blues excelled. Chelsea won the title, Kanté won the PFA Player of the Year award and he was suddenly appreciated as the single greatest defensive midfielder around.
While Premier League success was elusive the following season, he still landed the FA Cup and the small matter of the World Cup with France.
However, after a few excellent seasons, things aren’t looking so rosy for ?Kanté in 2020. He’s been unable to stay fit this year, and even when he has been healthy, he has looked to be an awkward fit in Frank Lampard’s team.
Kanté has started 16 ?Premier League games this season, but has been on the winning side just five times. Yes, that’s not all his own fault – ?Chelsea have been woeful in defence at times – but you only have to watch him to see that something is clearly not right this year.
Lampard likes to see his midfielders push forwards and impact the game in attack, and that’s not Kanté. He’s not a real goal threat and he’s never going to be a creative machine, but that’s not his job.
What Kanté does is destroy. In midfield, he can chase down any attacker and recover possession without even breaking a sweat, and he seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to finding himself in the right position.
N’Golo Kante: Since moving to the Premier League in 2015, @nglkante has made more tackles and interceptions combined (931) than any other player
? The Chelsea midfielder turns 29 today pic.twitter.com/Ofo6twDu1l
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 29, 2020
It’s not as if he is a one trick pony either. When Maurizio Sarri thrust him further forward, the Frenchman adapted and worked tirelessly to prove that he could be a box-to-box threat, and he was pretty darn good at it.
Adaptation has been key to Kanté’s career. He did it flawlessly when he moved to ?Leicester, then did the same in Chelsea’s midfield, then commanded a place in France’s World Cup-winning midfield and finally showed his skills out of his comfort zone under Sarri.
Obviously, he now needs to rise to another test to cement a place in Lampard’s starting eleven. Injuries have made that impossible, but if you look at his track record, there is no player better suited to the challenge than Kanté.
What he needs to do is combine everything he knows about football; the defensive domination with which he made his name would be vital in Chelsea’s midfield, but only if he can bring some of the attacking confidence which he showed under Sarri.
Fans have been asking whether he deserves the time to try that. Both Paris Saint-Germain and ?Real Madrid have been linked with big-money moves for the 29-year-old, and cashing in on such a top talent would obviously go a long way to helping the Blues rebuild.
However, letting him go now would be a huge mistake. Chelsea’s need for some defensive structure and experience is so clear to see – they have managed just six clean sheets this year – and allowing Kanté to get back to his best is the easiest (and cheapest) way to get that.
If he can bring some on-ball confidence, Kanté can become the complete midfielder. Building him back up should be one of Lampard’s top priorities.
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