PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe has gone on record with his thoughts on how the Ligue 1 champions can strengthen ahead of next season, and he believes that Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante is the man the French capital outfit should be targeting.
Since leaving France for England, the 27-year-old has won two Premier League titles, as well as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year in 2016-17 and is a regular under Didier Deschamps heading to the World Cup in Russia with Les Bleus.
“N’Golo, in terms of our needs and also the quality of the player,” Mbappe told beIN Sports when asked for an ideal summer signing for PSG. “I think he is a player who would suit our team perfectly.
“N’Golo is French and bringing a Frenchman back would be good as far as the attractiveness of Ligue 1 is concerned. I think all the French love N’Golo and it would be a pleasure to see him again in Le Championnat.”
However, if PSG do move for Kante this summer and manage to lure him away from Stamford Bridge, a lot will depend on Unai Emery’s replacement — expected to be Thomas Tuchel — at Parc des Princes.
For the best part of Oryx Qatar Sports Investments’ (QSI) time owning Les Parisiens, the team has played in a possession-based 4-3-3 formation, which was established by Laurent Blanc, with a deep-lying midfielder in front of a four-man defence.
Thiago Motta, long recognised as one of the most influential players in that defensive midfield role, had PSG covered there up until this season, but age, injuries and ill-discipline (always a part of his game) have compromised this campaign and probably brought an end to a glittering career. Last summer, sporting director Antero Henrique tried but failed to snare Monaco’s Fabinho to inherit Motta’s throne in the French giants’ midfield, and the January acquisition of Lassana Diarra came too late to meaningfully impact the second half of this term.
Kante, who played for Boulogne and Caen before joining Leicester City, is not deep-lying playmaker in the same mould as Motta. Even Diarra, who was signed by Marseille in 2015 once Kante opted for the Foxes, is more similar to the veteran Italian, so Mbappe’s idea that the Chelsea man would be a “perfect” fit is not entirely true at this moment in time.
PSG do need a defensive midfielder, but they need one capable of doing more than Kante can. Even if his limited attributes are among the best in his position, passing over long as well as short distances is absolutely vital to emulating Motta. Assuming that Emery’s successor is Tuchel, the German, known for his tactical versatility, would have to move away from the 4-3-3 and possibly go with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 that would lessen the technical strain on Kante.
Tuchel, who is rumoured to view the midfield as an area of the squad in need of improvement, has been linked with a move for Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Weigl, who he knows very well from their time together. Weigl is something of an encrypted computer, which only Tuchel appears to know how to operate and get the best out of.
PSG have also been mooted as a potential destination for Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, and the France international is the sort of signing that QSI would quite comfortably go over the heads of their coach, and possibly even sporting director to land. Utilising their contacts with super-agent Mino Raiola, it is not impossible to imagine a return to the French capital in the future, but that would leave PSG with three high-quality midfielders that are not keen on playing in a defensive role.
Henrique is expected to push for the versatile Fabinho again this summer, and the Brazil international has made it clear that he wants to leave Monaco.
With Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot already in place, the only way a move for Kante could make sense is if the formation changes from 4-3-3 to something like a narrow 4-4-2, which would create complications in attack, or if one of the Frenchman or the Italian leave. Rabiot’s contract situation could change that this summer, but the 23-year-old is likelier to extend his stay with his formative club than be allowed to leave, while Verratti has already declared his desire to stay to pre-empt a flurry of baseless summer transfer guff.
Mbappe is right to identify defensive midfield as a priority position ahead of this summer, but PSG’s No. 29 is not quite correct in believing that Kante would be the ideal man to replace Motta.
Depending on what Tuchel decides to do formation-wise once installed as Emery’s successor at Parc des Princes, the kings of Le Championnat might or might need a new midfielder. It could also be the case that they do eventually move for one, just one who offers more than Kante does.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.