When Chelsea played Swansea at Stamford Bridge, the Swans assistant manager just happened to be one of the most legendary players ever to wear the blue shirt. A player so special that they named a position on the field after him. I am of course talking about the one and only Claude Makelele. Due to his presence there was an even closer look at our current number 7, N’golo Kante. A quite phenomenal player in his own right but the manner of his play and physical appearance always draws comparison with CM ( they are both the same height). It got me thinking are they the same kind of player or are they entirely different?
My memories of Maka are all positive. I could not remember a game where I thought he played badly, although there must have been. He sat in front of an awesome back four and keeper. He protected them , he also freed the ball up to be used by Lampard Essien Robben and Duff. He was an essential part of what was probably our greatest ever team. I remember when we bought him from Real Madrid that he went on strike to force the move through. At the time Real were intent on packing their side with stars, Maka wasn’t one and so he left. I have read disparaging remarks from Zidane questioning Madrid’s hierarchy and the logic of his departure. There are probably fans of Real who still shake their heads at the lunacy.
He was 30 when he joined us, hardly past it as he proved week after week. He came in when Roman was playing football supermarket sweep and became one of the most important players in the back to back title winning teams. He had a way of playing which was in essence an irritant to the opposition. Football over the years has sped up and so players have less time to think. With Maka on the pitch that reduced to no time. He managed to appear as if by magic, to nick the ball away or somehow gyrate his body in such an angle as to make it impossible for the opposition player to do anything other than give the ball away. Yes there were fouls but ultimately he made it very difficult to play against him.
Now some of this may be very familiar. Kante has brought the same quality to our team. He niggles he harasses and ultimately wins the ball. For me the one thing that he brings more than anything else is tempo. There were so many games last season where things just shambled from one situation to another. There is no chance of that happening with Kante in the team. He has freed up both Matic and Fabregas and helped our beleaguered defence to regain some solidity. It’s interesting that the majority of goals conceded are set pieces or headers. Is that because when Kante is on the pitch there is no clear route through our midfield he will simply not let it happens. His speed of thought is quite frankly astonishing. Against Swansea, the otherwise excellent David Luiz let the ball slip under his foot but out of literally nowhere Kante appeared and stopped the Swansea forward being able to do anything. He is also too quick for referees. His “foul” which led to the free kick from which Swansea’s goal was scored simply wasn’t. It was his fourth tackle in 24 seconds as he snapped from heel to heel. Simply amazing stuff. It is strange to think now that following defeat at the Emirates there was much derision as NK was out sprinted by the referee on one occasion and there were questions as to whether he was the same player now that he had left Leicester, I think we know the answer now.
His purchase in the summer was brilliant. I have no idea why he left Leicester and came to us. We had no European football and I am sure others could have met his wag
e demands. He was
reported as saying he was impressed with Chelsea’s new manager ( we all are!) and admitted in his first interview at the club that the former Italy and Juventus boss’ passion and dedication to details was a big reason why he made the “difficult” decision to forsake Champions League football with Leicester and sign for the Blues. I was desperately hoping through the Euros that he would stay under the radar. He didn’t play all of France’s games but I was hoping that he would not peak the interests of some of the big European clubs. He apparently turned down Manchester United to come to us and maybe London was the draw but for whatever reason – thank you.
So most say that the main difference between the two players is that Kante is more attacking. He certainly scored a tremendous solo goal against Manchester United at home and he does seem to get into much more advanced positions. He has on a couple of occasions squandered some decent chances when making runs into the box. He certainly should have done better against Swansea when he had a really decent opportunity but blasted it way over the bar. He also seems to be more adventurous and accurate with his distribution something you wouldn’t automatically associate with Maka. Doing my research I treated myself to some YouTube footage of Maka to remind me of his talents. He certainly did get forward more than I remembered. Yes he was firmly at the base of midfield but do you remember the brilliant goal Frank Lampard scored against Bayern Munich? You know the one where he received the ball in the area, controlled it and volleyed it home on the turn. For some that was one of their best Frank moments but how many remember it was Maka who dinked the inch perfect pass to Frank, I certainly didn’t. His two Chelsea goals were a screamer at the Lane and a botched penalty at home against Charlton where he hit in the rebound. Hardly prolific but that was not what he was there for!
So are they the same or similar. For me Maka was more of a shield, more protection for the back four. He was slightly less attacking but as I said did have that in his armoury. Perhaps as we had better options in midfield at the time there was less need for him to go forward. With Kante we have a younger model, more of an “aggressor” nicking the ball away before danger arrives, he also has a more “attacking” coach. As we know Jose must have been in heaven with Maka in his side. No coaching him into more defensive duties. The back to back champions were a better team than we currently have but we are a young team and are growing. If the squad stays together and importantly Conte stays in charge , who knows where we and N’Golo can go together. Here’s hoping.
Clayton is the author of Palpable Discord: A Year of Drama and Dissent at Chelsea