ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Chelsea midfielder N‘Golo Kante’s displays this season have spurred comparisons with ex-Blues star Claude Makelele.
But Makelele - Kante’s French compatriot - is reluctant to anoint him as his successor just yet, saying Kante has not faced enough trials and tribulations in his career so far.
Kante, 26, was a vital part of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side as they marched towards the Premier League title this year. It was Kante’s second championship in a row, having helped Leicester City to one of the most improbable triumphs in European football in 2016.
Kante’s performances earned him the Football Writers Association’s Player of the Year gong in May, adding to a list of accolades.
But Makelele, 44, equally diminutive, combative and a two-time Premier League winner with Chelsea before retiring in 2010, is cautious about saying he has passed the baton - for now.
“At the moment Kante is special and one of the best midfielders. The problem is, I played 25 years in football at this level and comparisons are being made in a bad way,” he told Reuters in an interview in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa during a publicity tour for his sponsor Heineken.
With Chelsea relieved of European duty this season, having failed to qualify, Makelele said the absence of a tougher schedule had benefited Kante’s energetic displays and that next season will be different.
“This season he did not play in the Champions League. Every four days there will be games. With the national team there will be games. There will be a lot of games. He needs to get that experience,” he said.
“When he is at that level, he will not run 90 minutes all the time. He will need to listen to the rhythm, the way he plays. This will be key for him. I hope this will be the situation. I hope he does better than I did in my career.”
In addition to Chelsea, Makelele had spells with French sides Nantes and Olympique Marseille, as well as Spain’s Celta Vigo, Real Madrid and Paris St Germain, making over 600 appearances altogether.
He was part of the Champions League-winning Real side in 2002 and his former team will lock horns with Italian giants Juventus on Saturday in a bid to claim a 12th European Cup title.
Makelele expected an even contest between the star-studded sides, but said the difference would come from key tactical decisions.
“I think Juventus have made a lot of progress. For the last three years, they have been fighting for this trophy. Now I think they are ready to fight. Real won La Liga and before they have won the Champions League. They are comfortable and know how to play a final. It is normal for them,” he said.
“It is 50-50. But I think the managers (Zinedine Zidane of Real or Massimiliano Allegri of Juventus) will make the difference, and also the big players. This will be the key in the match.”
Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Andrew Bolton