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Monday 1 May 2017

Kante is king in tale of two midfield men

(l-r) Chelsea’s French midfield dynamo N’Golo Kante and his fellowcountryman, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, will do battle again at Old Trafford tomorrow. Photo: PA
(l-r) Chelsea’s French midfield dynamo N’Golo Kante and his fellowcountryman, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, will do battle again at Old Trafford tomorrow. Photo: PA

So a fairy godmother grants you a wish and tells that with a wave of her wand, she can give your club either Paul Pogba or N'Golo Kante. Which Frenchman would you choose?

No brainer. Kante every time unless you want a talented modern dance man with an outlook on life which doesn't seem to allow him to express his football talent to the greatest extent.

Flanking Jose Mourinho during the pre-match press conference for the Europa League game against Anderlecht, Pogba spoke about his dancing habits and how he had spoken to his boss about it.

"I love life. I like to dance. I can switch on and off, on and off the pitch. Before you wouldn't do it, now you do. In America, basketballers listen to music," he said.

"I am serious off the pitch and love life off it. Mourinho told me what he thought but we are different generations."

He is the Claude Makelele (p) of this version of Chelsea
He is the Claude Makelele (p) of this version of Chelsea

Even a cursory glance at United's Europa League draw with Anderlecht showed exactly why Mourinho felt he needed to have a word.

It's not about the dancing, it's about the attitude.

Pogba slouched around the pitch in Belgium without a care in the world, missed an absolute sitter and it didn't seem to bother him too much.

It bothered Mourinho who must look at Kante and wonder why he didn't make the effort to sign him.

Everything Pogba is, Kante is not.

Kante is quiet, self-effacing and obviously a dedicated professional.

He makes no headlines for anything he does off the pitch and often enough, none for what he does on it either because his work mostly happens under the radar.

He is the Claude Makelele of this version of Chelsea and the very player Mourinho or indeed any top manager needs to run his midfield.

All Mourinho can do now is pray that Pogba is not a media invention and can actually become the main man for United in the same way big names have dominated before.

Eric Cantona had the same, louche aspect to his personality. Sometimes he looked as if playing football was the last thing he wanted to do.

But then he would pick the ball up, take a few steps and smash a shot into the top corner, turning nonchalantly, hand on hip, to take the adulation.

Pogba hasn't done that bit yet or even looked like doing it.

In the same press conference, Pogba spoke about the pressure of his €100m fee and claimed that the size of it created over-ambitious expectations.

He spoke about how he is a midfielder but that he is expected to score goals as well because of his transfer fee.

To most mortals, a man who earns more in a week playing a game than most people will earn in ten years and, nominally speaking, is seen as an attacking midfielder, scoring goals is the very least he should bring to the table. It's not like a does a lot else. Against Anderlecht, it was easy to lose count of the number of times he wandered into midfield and lost possession, casually trotting back into a defensive position after each error.

No, Kante is the only Frenchman at the top of the Premier League giving value for money and he cost €70m less than Pogba.

That's why Mourinho said this after Chelsea beat United in the FA Cup, the last time the two Frenchmen met and Kante schooled Pogba in the art of midfield.

Asked why Pogba was the target for criticism, he said: "It probably comes from envy but I have to say that, for me, Pogba was by far the best player on the pitch, he was a giant on the pitch."

He wasn't. Kante was and likely as not, we'll be saying the same after tomorrow's game at Old Trafford.

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