This summer, after France’s opening day win over Romania at Euro 2016, midfield legend Claude Makelele announced that N’Golo Kante was good enough to play for French champions PSG.
“For me, he has a great deal he can improve on,” said Makelele.
“If he continues like this, to work hard, he will become a key player in a big European team. When I imagine him with (PSG midfielder) Marco Verratti, I reckon it would be a real pleasure. He has to aim for that level.”
Kante played the full ninety minutes at the Stade de France that day, winning three out of the four tackles he made against the Romanians while also completing 92% of his passing. Having been instrumental in Leicester City’s staggering Premier League title win only a few months before, Makelele’s prophecy of Kante joining a big team soon came to pass, with the 25-year-old earning a £30m move to Chelsea. And he is already proving to be vital for new boss Antonio Conte.
The 25-year-old, with his short stature, a natural reading of the game and tenacious, unrelenting tackling style, has often been compared to Makelele, with Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic claiming on Friday that his new colleague is, in fact, better than the now-retired Frenchman.
“Many people say that he is the new Makelele, but I don’t think so,” said Matic.
“Makelele was a great player and we all respect him, me especially because I know that position and how it is difficult to play.
“But I think that N’Golo is better than him. He is doing his defensive job very well and with the ball he has some extra quality.”
Certainly a bold statement from Matic, but with Kante in their team, Chelsea have won their opening three games of the 2016/17 season and sit second on goal difference. A brilliant start, with Kante hugely significant.
The midfielder has a tackle success rate of 63% this season and has made five interceptions, three clearances and won 13 duels. His position in front of the back four is unquestionably key to the success of this new Chelsea outfit, with Kante’s winning of the ball high up the pitch enabling the more attacking players to remain forward in anticipation of their new teammate supplying them with more opportunities even after possession has been turned over.
But how does Kante compare with the great Claude Makelele? Does Kante’s stats come close to the former France midfielder’s over their last two seasons in the Premier League respectively?
Between 2006 and 2008, Claude Makelele played 47 games for Chelsea and had an average of 47.7 passes per game. Kante, over his two seasons in the Premier League with both Chelsea and Leicester (40 games), holds an average of 40.8 passes per game.
While these are similar stats, the fact that Kante has four assists to his name, with another four major opportunities made for teammates over the last two seasons, backs up Matic’s claim that Kante has “some extra quality” when in possession. Makelele draws a blank in terms of assists and chances created, with Kante not just a ball-winner in the middle of the park but also a willing creator.
Makelele does come out on top with passes made, however, with his 2,240 topping Kante’s 1,632. The now 43-year-old was known for playing the safe pass and was never a ball-playing midfielder. His position in his own ‘Makelele role’ was a destroyer, hardly ever crossing the halfway line, sensing and eliminating the danger and providing perfect cover for the defence.
But despite his status as one of the best defensive midfielders ever to play the game, N’Golo Kante already gives him a run for his money.
In his final two seasons at Stamford Bridge, Makelele made 114 tackles with an 82% success rate. Kante has made 183 tackles over the last two seasons, with a 71% success rate. They both have blocked four shots, but Kante’s 161 interceptions dwarves Makelele’s 55.
Kante loves nothing more than flying into a quick challenge, stopping the opposition’s play before it has a chance to progress. Makelele, on the other hand, played the long game during his time at Stamford Bridge, clearing the ball 99 times in his last two seasons compared to Kante’s current total of 59.
Both defensive midfielders boast decent percentages in terms of duel winning, with Makelele finishing on 58% and Kante currently on 55%. The latter is much more adventurous in the air, however, having completed 28 headed clearances compared to Makelele’s ten.
Like with any legendary player, the thought that they might be one day be challenged in terms of their lasting omnipotence seems quite mad.
This is Claude Makelele we’re talking about, who’s departure from Real Madrid in 2003 marked the final nail in the Spanish giant’s coffin, a death that lasted over a decade. The Claude Makelele that was the cornerstone for Chelsea’s first two Premier League crowns. The Claude Makelele who is referred to as the ultimate clean-up man.
But if the stats are anything to go by, we may be witnessing a real superstar in the making in N’Golo Kante.
It must be said that Claudio Ranieri bought both Makelele and Kante while at Chelsea and Leicester respectively. The Italian would surely be able to walk into any scouting job in the world now, were he not a demi-god at the current Premier League champions.