Reports have surfaced from Real Madrid about Zinedine Zidane’s intentions to go all-out after World Cup winner and Chelsea midfield enforcer N’Golo Kante next season, with Spanish outlet Defensa Central claiming that a “gentleman’s agreement”, which means a preferential option to buy, has been reached.
Kante was on his way out of the London club last season but they fought to keep him as they couldn’t face losing another of their key players.
Zinedine Zidane has already acquired Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois from the London club but has also been a long-time admirer of Kante as well and Los Blancos may act on that next summer, according to reports.
Both players have already spoken out in glowing terms on the former Leicester man, making things more interesting.
Hazard once said about his former Chelsea teammate: “Everyone knows about him — he’s everywhere. I think sometimes when I’m on the pitch I see him twice, one on the left, one on the right. I think I’m playing with twins!”
Courtois also remarked about the Frenchman in the past: “N’Golo just runs and runs and runs. He must be carrying a really big motor inside himself to keep on doing that week after week. He never gets rest and is the guy that gives us balance in this team.”
Zidane definitely agrees with his players, as he eyes an upgrade on his current option for the ball-winning midfielder position, Casemiro.
Casemiro has so far spent five trophy-laden seasons with Madrid and has played no small part in the successes the club has enjoyed in this period. From a relatively unknown midfielder to earning comparisons to some of the best holding midfielders in the game, Casemiro has silently operated to devastating effect for Madrid in the middle of the park week after week since Madrid called him back into their squad from Porto where he spent the 2014/15 season on loan.
Kante has had a similar career path also, coming from Caen in France to Leicester City in England, and was one of the standout performers in their epic title-winning 2015/16 season before leaving for Chelsea and playing a huge part in their title-winning 2016/17 season, making him one of two players to win back-to-back EPL titles with two different teams. In the 2016 edition of the Euros tournament, his first major tournament with France, he got to the finals losing out to Portugal. His second major tournament was the biggest of them all, the 2018 World Cup, and he played a pivotal role as France eventually clinched the title.
Both players are two of the best in that role currently and have even entered the discussion for greatest of all time in that position, and have also been compared to each other by fans and pundits alike. But with the news coming out of Madrid, will Zidane be getting an upgrade to Casemiro or will he be spending more money on the same?
Casemiro is not your typical Brazilian player who possesses the tricks and flicks and ability to beat players in a one-on-one situation, although he is as good as any of his countrymen with the ball at his feet. He is an intelligent, tactically and technically gifted midfielder who can pick out an opponent’s run and mark him out of the game or pick out the trajectory of a pass and intercept it. He is always ready to contribute to Real Madrid’s counter-attacking style by playing a long forward pass when he spots the run of a teammate.
Casemiro is technically adept enough to play on the offensive, hence the risk Zidane is currently taking playing him upfront. He is very positionally aware and can track back from an offensive position into his slot between the defence and attack so quickly that it feels like he never left his position. However, he is prone to making rash tackles which could put his team at risk.
He is aerially superior to most holding midfielders and he possesses a very powerful shot coupled with stunning accuracy.
He has been Madrid’s most important player in recent seasons, and this speaks a lot about his ability considering that we are in an age where goalscorers are everything. In this area too, he has even outshone most of Madrid’s midfielders including Ballon dÓr winner Luka Modric and World Cup winner Toni Kroos, with who he forms Madrid’s first choice midfield trident.
Kante, his purported replacement in the eyes of Zidane, is just as effective as he is in that role. Last season he played a more offensive role in the team due to Chelsea acquiring Jorginho and this showed how good he is going forward too. Now, Kante is just as good going forward as he is in the holding midfield position. Kante’s small stature and low centre of gravity also helps him get around very quickly and cover a lot of ground in a match as Hazard has attested, and his work rate is very impressive.
His strength – an unpopular opinion of mine – is his ability to make very clean tackles. He rarely commits fouls in a match unlike Casemiro, and is just as effective winning balls in the middle of the park. However, his height is a disadvantage for him in aerial duels but with Kante marking an aerially gifted player, it’s best the ball stays up and doesn’t hit the ground, which we all know is impossible, because the chances of Kante taking the ball off the player is high.
Seeing how both possess similar qualities, it feels like Zidane has a bias just because Kante is his countryman.
According to the infographic above, Casemiro only loses out to Kante in the creativity area and not by much. Casemiro is more effective going forward despite him preferring to stay behind and clean up an opponent’s attack and Kante attempting more forward runs than he does, and you only need to look at their goalscoring records to deduce this. Also, Casemiro is better on the ball than Kante is but Kante’s best strengths lie off the ball because of his tirelessness and his ability to cover large portions of the pitch. The Frenchman can be found most of the time where the ball is and this is probably what Zidane sees (asides that he’s French) and wants for his team.
The discussion over who is better is really close and one doesn’t outrightly stand out from the other even though their attributes comparison show otherwise. What that shows however, is what Zidane stands to lose if he chooses to replace Casemiro and at 28 years old, it will take a lot to improve Kante’s game to Casemiro’s current levels. They both can get better at their jobs because of their strong discipline, but it’ll be more logical to stick with Casemiro.
If the reports hold any water and Zidane really wants Kante, he won’t be getting an upgrade in the real sense of the word.
Zidane’s return to Madrid reportedly hinged on the fact that he’ll be allowed the freedom to shape the squad to his tastes, but he could end up undoing all the good he has done thus far with his decisions which seem more emotional than logical.