Chelsea risk losing one of the world’s best defensive midfielders for nothing in the summer after talks with N’Golo Kante over a contract extension stalled.
Manager Graham Potter is not getting involved in the negotiations, though he said on Tuesday that any team would ‘suffer’ if they lost Kante, whose deal expires at the end of this season.
It means Kante will be free to talk to other clubs from January, including Paris Saint-Germain, who hold a long-standing interest in the 31-year-old Frenchman.
It is understood Kante is seeking a longer contract similar to the four years handed to Kalidou Koulibaly, also 31, in the summer.
Yet Chelsea, who are taking his injury record into account, are believed to have offered a two-year deal with the option of a third.
It is a headache for the Todd Boehly regime, who are mindful of how many matches he has missed. Kante has started only 20, 24 and 21 games in each of the last three Premier League seasons, largely due to muscular problems.
Yet when fit, few footballers are as devastatingly effective as Kante, who finished fifth in the 2021 Ballon d’Or in the midst of those injury-restricted campaigns.
Kante is back in training after a hamstring issue and may make the squad for tonight’s visit of AC Milan in the Champions League. Potter is keen to get him on the pitch as soon as safely possible, admitting Chelsea have no like-for-like replacement for him.
Speaking on Tuesday at his press conference, Potter said: ‘My focus is to help him rehabilitate in a good way so he is available for us. When on the pitch, he is a huge asset for us. The other stuff (contract talks) is between the club and him.
“My focus is to help him get fit and enjoying his football. There are not many players in world football like him, so the quicker he is back for us the better. That is where I leave my focus.’
Kante joined for £30m in 2016 after turning into a superstar at Leicester. Since then he has amassed a vast trophy collection, winning the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, Super Cup and Club World Club with Chelsea and the World Cup with France.
Those who know Kante do not blame him for feeling he deserves a longer deal. It has been reported that Chelsea’s previous regime were willing to hand him a three-year deal with the option of a fourth, before talks were halted by Government sanctions on former owner Roman Abramovich.
Talks are continuing with Boehly and Co while Potter attempts to reinstate him into his team.
Since impressing in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham, Kante has missed seven matches due to his injury, with Chelsea winning only three times as Thomas Tuchel was replaced by Potter.
“It’s hard to replace someone like him,” Potter added.
“He is a world-class player and any team that loses him will suffer a little bit. But it’s up to the other players to take the step up and find the solutions.
“If we look at the options we’ve got, even if there isn’t a direct replacement, there are other solutions in there so we have to find the right one.”
Potter’s search for solutions contributed to him using two different systems — 3-5-2 against Red Bull Salzburg and 4-2-2-2 at Crystal Palace — in his first two games as manager.
It was put to Potter on Tuesday that Wednesday night’s visit of Milan could represent a must-win for his side after they began their Champions League group with defeat at Dinamo Zagreb and a draw at home to Salzburg.
Potter said, “It’s an exciting challenge. It’s one we’re looking forward to. It’s important to win our home games. We have to play well and create a good atmosphere.”