Football supporters love a good subjective debate. They’ll turn even the simplest disagreements into full-blown arguments because emotions run high in the sport—and it’s beautiful. Some of the most common conversations include top (insert number here) players in a certain position and of course, the dreaded ‘best ever’ talks. One of the most difficult players to pinpoint over the last few years has been Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante. He’s a somewhat divisive player amongst fans. Every fanatic of the game should be able to appreciate Kante’s greatness, but not everyone ranks him as highly as the Blues’ faithful in their respective all-time lists.
It’s a widely accepted belief that he’s no longer in his prime, regardless of one’s feelings on the lovable Frenchman. For lack of a better term, Kante has started his career descent and it’s heartbreaking to see. This isn’t to say he’s a bad player either. Kante’s back-to-back-to-back Man of the Match awards in last year’s Champions League semifinals and final show just how great the midfielder is right now. There’s something to be said for his consistency and longevity though. His downtick in form means that all of the Chelsea fans who claimed to have wanted to sell him years ago will come out of their holes again soon. Therefore, it’s time to talk about Kante’s place within Thomas Tuchel’s squad going forward.
N’Golo Kante still has an important role to play in the current Chelsea team
The unfortunate reality that Chelsea fans must now face is that Kante is no longer the invincible player he was a few seasons ago. If we’re being frank, he hasn’t been himself on a consistent basis since Maurizio Sarri’s lone season in charge. Injuries, age and general wear and tear have begun to take their toll on the Frenchman. Kante is on pace to finish with the fewest minutes he’s ever played in a Premier League campaign. He needs to play in 470 of 810 available domestic minutes for the remainder of the season just to equal his tally from the 2019/20 campaign.
Despite the 31-year-old’s inability to stay on the pitch, Kante has been a real force to be reckoned with when he does play in the heart of Tuchel’s system. He’s struggled here and there, but overall, he puts in a shift every time he’s called upon under the brightest lights. That was until Wednesday. Kante was pulled off at halftime against Real Madrid as he failed to have any impact on the match whatsoever. It was an uncharacteristically poor outing from the tireless midfielder. This got many Chelsea fans talking about his future with the club.
The Blues will have to make a decision regarding their world class player, as well. Kante will only have 12 months left on his contract this summer, so he needs to either extend his current deal or he runs the risk of being sold before the start of the 2022/23 season. While it’s nearly impossible to view him under a different light after all that he’s accomplished at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea needs to do that when it weighs its options.
Simply put, Kante should receive an extension. Similar to Cesar Azpilicueta, he’s done enough over the years to earn the right to decide his future on his own. The veteran is also still incredibly important to Tuchel’s team given his ability to be one of the best players on the planet on any given day. All of that being said, the Blues cannot rely on him to be one of their three main midfielders going forward. Kante isn’t getting any younger and he simply can’t handle the workload that he could when Antonio Conte brought him in from Leicester City.
The cries to sell Kante or write him off completely are overblown. ‘Vintage Kante’ still pops up from time to time and he’s an invaluable luxury when at the top of his game. Chelsea has been able to rely on his consistency for the better part of the last decade, the club just needs to now begin to prepare for life after the Frenchman.
Mateo Kovacic looks to be the rock in midfield going forward, Jorginho is in a similar position as Kante with one-year left on his deal and the other midfielders likely won’t be around next year. Conor Gallagher’s addition to the side will help balance out the workload and allow the Blues to continue on with Kante for a few more seasons. However, they may also need to add one more piece, should the government sanctions get lifted in time for the summer transfer window.