He is one of the best midfielders of the last decade – maybe even one of the best. But with his injuries and his contract expiring, Chelsea’s options for N’Golo Kante appear slim.
The 31-year-old has made just two Premier League appearances this season, with the Blues opening two matches against Everton and Tottenham. While he performed well in those games – most notably in the 2-2 draw against Spurs – Kante has been out since then with a hamstring injury. Indeed, he has been out for so long that Chelsea have even changed managers since his last appearance, with Kante yet to feature under new boss Graham Potter.
Kante would also have been a key part of France’s World Cup squad this winter, had he been able to stay fit. Unfortunately, his injury meant he could play no part, instead watching from home as his teammates battled it out in their second consecutive final in the competition.
All this leaves the former Leicester City midfielder’s career at a crossroads. Kante is a formidable footballer, a ball-winner with energy and an ability to read the game, often appearing to do two things at once. He was the beating heart of Leicester’s 2015/16 title-winning side, and he repeated the feat for Chelsea the following season. But time seems to be on his side.
Kante has left everything in the Premier League for the past seven years, and a style based on too many quick runs and crunching tackles will sooner or later cost him. The midfielder has been plagued by injuries over the years, sidelining him for longer and longer periods as he ages.
Although Kante is a Chelsea legend and an icon of the modern game, sometimes emotions have to be put aside. Football is a business, a numbers game, and a player earning £290,000 a week despite missing four months of action at a time is a financial black hole. Chelsea may have been able to afford to take such a hit under Roman Abramovich, but new owner Todd Buhly will be keen to cut costs wherever he can as he reshapes the club in his own image.
Kante’s contract expires in the summer of 2023, meaning Chelsea can do nothing and move him on a free transfer in six months’ time. While it is sad and even kind of wrong to let such a big player go on a free transfer, in Kante’s case it could be the best move for all parties.
Chelsea need to improve their aging midfield, and freeing around £300,000 per week from their wage bill would help a lot. Meanwhile, Kante will have the chance to regain his fitness and earn a place in the French squad, perhaps without the same pressure that comes with being a Chelsea player.
The Premier League will miss him, and certainly never forget him – but Kante’s time in the sun may be over.