COMMENT: If it does happen. If Chelsea do allow N’Golo Kante’s contract to run down. Then it shouldn’t be Graham Potter who shoulders the blame for the iconic Frenchman’s departure…
For the moment. For those Kante fans amongst the Chelsea support. The odds of a new contract and the midfielder staying are lengthening by the day. Potter, for one, has admitted all new negotiations regarding Kante’s renewal have been suspended. The new Blues administration pulling back as the 31 year-old recovers from October hamstring surgery.
“The most important thing for me and the club is that we help him to come back,” stated Potter in his last update on Kante’s contract situation. “That is our focus.
“He has a long road ahead of him, so we have to make sure that he gets the right treatment. We have to help him come back strong, and when he is back on the field, we can think about that sort of thing.”
That “long road” isn’t expected to see Kante back on the Cobham training pitches until almost February. By which time, of course, Kante will legally have been cleared to talk pre-contract terms with any interested foreign club.
And there’s many. Luis Campos, PSG’s transfer fixer, has made it no secret that a priority is to reunite Kante with his extended family in Paris. A push which has the full backing of club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi. Barcelona, where the Bosman transfer is now favoured, is another to let Kante’s camp know of their interest. While in Italy, intermediaries have been tapped by Inter Milan, Juventus and Jose Mourinho’s Roma to approach Kante about the prospect of a late career move to Serie A.
So as Chelsea take their time on trying again to reach an agreement, the Frenchman can be assured there’s no similar reluctance to negotiate on the continent.
And we say again, as in the opening weeks of the new season, Chelsea – to their credit – did make an offer to renew Kante’s deal. On the approval of former manager Thomas Tuchel, the new owners tabled the 31 year-old a two-year contract with the option of a third. But while Kante was happy with the terms, the length of the deal turned him off. A counter proposal of a three-year contract with the option of a fourth was suggested. Kante’s minders were chancing their arm and there was a belief on both sides of the table a compromise would eventually be found. But then, two games into the season, Kante broke down in training. Talks continued, but with little progress being made and the player now in traction, those negotiations were soon suspended.
Tuchel, at the time, had hoped to have Kante’s deal locked away before the season had started. And upon confirming his midfielder’s latest injury setback, he also, in frustration, raised the prospect of Kante’s contract being allowed to run down. The German echoing the opinion of his new paymasters in the process.
“No, you cannot (disregard Kante’s injury record),” Tuchel declared. “You have to consider everything that is on the table, and on the table is his potential, on the table is his influence and his quality.
“But on the table of course is his age, his salary and his injury rate. From there you build a whole picture and try to find a solution.”
At the time, you could understand Tuchel’s angst. The then Blues manager had been deprived of Kante in over 30 games of his tenure. And while nothing had reached the public at the time, that new contract had been tabled and rejected by the player’s camp. A new contract that both manager and player knew would never have been considered by the previous board. That the new owners were even willing to consider Kante’s counter offer was something Tuchel felt “NG” should’ve been more appreciative of, given the previous over-30 policy of former managing director Marina Granovskaia.
But of course, this was business. Football business. And as Tuchel rightly highlighted, Kante’s determination to find the right deal for him cannot take away what his presence offers Chelsea on and off the pitch.
“He is a special person, rather unique,” says his senior teammate, Thiago Silva. “Probably nobody else in the world is maybe like him.”
The Brazilian’s opinion basically universal when it comes to Chelsea’s No7.
Which is why no-one inside the club are drawing a line through Kante’s name just yet. And for the player, as much as he’s flattered by the enquiries now being lodged with his grassroots management firm, KDS, his priority is to stay with Chelsea – and also to remain in London. But that choice to reject the club’s offer in August could be decisive. Particularly with Tuchel now long gone.
Kante, at least in football terms, has no relationship with Potter. He hasn’t participated in a training session with the new manager and his staff, let alone taken part in a game. Indeed, Potter has probably spoken more about Kante to his medicos than actually with the player himself.
And as such, without any type of history or emotional connection, it could be a lot easier for Potter to allow the Frenchman to leave than if Tuchel was still in charge. The manager’s system does require a player of Kante’s type – think Yves Bissouma at Brighton. But waiting for Kante to get fit. Then having to sweat on the prospect of he and the board finding agreement on new terms. It would be understandable if Potter and this newly-formed transfers committee were already planning for a Chelsea without the World Cup winner.
And if this was to happen. If Kante’s contract was to simply run down. He only need to look back at the effort the new owners made in August to accommodate him. It shouldn’t be Potter who shoulders the blame for this one.