When N’Golo Kánte signed for Leicester City in 2015, he lifted the Premier League title nine months later. The following season, when the Frenchman moved to Chelsea, he again would have to wait only nine months before lifting the title for a second time.
Coincidence? Absolutely not. This is just the the galvanising effect that a player of Kánte’s irresistible talent has on a team.
When he first arrived in England four years ago, the 28-year-old made his name as the archetypal ball-winning midfielder. Possessing the best midfield engine in the league, mythical stories emerged about Kánte’s superhuman stamina.
Before he purchased his now iconic white Mini Cooper, the midfielder was convinced that it was feasible for him to run into training every day – before Leicester suggested that probably wasn’t the best idea.
His manager that season: Claudio Ranieri, even speculated in an interview with the Telegraph that: “One day, I’m going to see [him] cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header [himself]. He’s unbelievable.”
As amusing and in many ways accurate as these tales were, the reduction of Kánte to an unglamorous, workhorse of a footballer was a perception that he had found difficult to shake – until recently.
However, even in his inaugural Premier League campaign there were signs that the future France international was capable of so much more than winning the ball back…over…and over…and over again.
Though his midfield partner Danny Drinkwater earned the majority of plaudits for his sweeping long balls to Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, Kánte’s passing was also impressive. When he won the ball back – on average about nine times a game – there was no panicking.
He was composed and confident, capable of moving the ball on quickly to one of his teammates or even driving the ball forward of his own accord. It is often forgotten that Kánte registered four assists during his first Premier League season. Only the high tempo of the Foxes tactical style fooled people into thinking that he did not want the ball.
Though there were early signs that Kánte would blossom into a star, the Frenchman’s development into one of the best players in the world would predominantly take place at Stamford Bridge.
Under the tutelage of Antonio Conte and then Maurizio Sarri, the 28-year-old would morph into the ‘complete midfielder’, in the words of now manager, Frank Lampard.
Initially deployed in a typical defensive-midfield berth under Conte, the team’s shift to a 3-4-2-1 formation after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal revealed just how flexible and talented Kánte really was. His accomplished performances as the Blues’ linchpin in midfield earned the smiling midfielder the PFA Player of the Year award – an accolade that he should had received the season before.
Under Sarri, Kanté’s role shifted again. Operating as the shuttling right-sided player in Chelsea’s midfield diamond, allowed him to develop the attacking side of his game. For the first time ever he got goals – scoring four – whilst also registering the same number of assists in the league.
The constant evolution of Kánte’s role and responsibilities throughout his career demonstrate a number of things. One, he’s an agreeable personality, happy to fit into the team wherever he’s required. Two, he’s an incredible player, possessing the attributes required to make this sort of positional flexibility possible. Three, Real Madrid need to sign him – now.
So what makes him so perfect for Los Blancos?
Well a lot of that comes down to the managerial style of Zinedine Zidane.
Unlike Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino who all posses coherent footballing philosophies, Zidane is a different kettle of fish. The Real boss has no fixed way of playing, focusing instead on building the best squad of players possible and keeping them all happy and able to express themselves.
Although his treatment of Gareth Bale this summer may suggest otherwise, there’s no denying that Zidane is an incredible man manager who would relish the chance of welcoming a personality like Kánte into his tight-knit dressing room.
Tactically speaking, the midfielder would also be a popular choice for Zizou. Zidane is infamous for changing formations frequently and in this regard Kánte positional flexibility would prove invaluable.
The Frenchman offers a level of adaptability that current Los Blancos anchor man Casemiro is sorely lacking. There’s not denying that the Brazilian does what he does very well. He breaks up play aggressively and quickly lays it off to someone more creative, but he’s nowhere near as technically gifted or mobile as the mesmerising Kánte.
Casemiro’s lack of mobility is likely to be cruelly exposed this season, especially in the Champions League – particularly is he continues to be partnered with the equally lumbering if remarkably talented pair: Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
The signing of Kánte provides almost a cheat code to get around these problems.
As his potential new teammate Eden Hazard once said in an interview with the Independent: “I think sometimes when I’m on the pitch I see him twice. One on the left, one on the right. I think I’m playing with twins!”
Two players for the price of one?! How could Real Madrid refuse?
Quite simply, N’Golo Kánte is the best midfielder in the world and if Zinedine Zidane seriously wants to see Real Madrid conquer the world again, he has to make adding him to the squad his biggest priority.