It’s been almost five years since the day N’Golo Kanté arrived in England, but his move from Caen to Leicester City is still impacting the transfer policies of Premier League clubs almost half a decade later.
The Foxes proved it was possible to win the title with a team of virtually unknown players acquired on a limited budget in 2015/16. Other clubs have been trying to follow their lead and unearth the next diamond in the rough ever since.
It will be a tough task to match Leicester’s impressive recruitment policy over the past few years – Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez cost a total of approximately £1.6million when the Foxes were still in the Championship. Premier League era signings Kanté and Harry Maguire were relative bargains at around £8.1million and £12.3million respectively.
Nonetheless, champions-elect Liverpool have shown that it is still possible to find value in the market and be successful. Andy Robertson’s arrival from Hull City for a fee close to £8million in 2017 now looks like an outstanding piece of business for one of the world’s best left-backs. The Reds have also been smart when it comes to spotting release clauses that are below the market rate – Xherdan Shaqiri and Takumi Minamino have provided useful squad depth over the past two seasons for relatively modest outlays.
It is, therefore, no surprise the rest of England’s top flight are attempting to follow suit, with finding the ‘next Kanté’ high on the agendas of recruitment teams across the country. The latest name to be filed under that category is Angers midfielder Baptiste Santamaría, who is reportedly attracting interest from Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton.
The 25-year-old has played 28 times for Les Scoïstes in Ligue 1 this season, and has racked up an impressive total of 134 league appearances since joining from Tours in 2016. It’s perhaps no surprise the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Goodison Park are being talked about as two potential destinations for Santamaría, with both clubs in need of midfield reinforcements in the summer. Everton in particular never seem to have adequately replaced Idrissa Gueye since his move to Paris Saint-Germain, while Tanguy Ndombele hasn’t lived up to expectations at Spurs after his big-money move from Lyon.
With Santamaría certainly appearing to fit in with Leicester’s recruitment strategy of spotting talent at clubs further down football’s food chain, there could well be a three-way tussle for his services when the next transfer window rolls around.
If we take a look at the former France Under-20 international’s statistics from this season it becomes clear why he is in such high demand. The man from Saint-Doulchard has impressive distribution skills, with a more than respectable 81.6 per cent passing accuracy from 47.33 passes attempted per 90. While those numbers may be relatively easy to achieve by playing neat and tidy balls to team-mates, Santamaría doesn’t shy away from more ambitious passes. He has attempted an average of 7.90 long passes per 90 during the current campaign, completing 4.99 – that’s inside the top 30 players in the whole of Ligue 1.
Santamaria is no less impressive without the ball and is equally adept at breaking up play. He has made 3.23 tackles per 90, winning an average of 1.90, and has won an admirable 7.40 duels per 90 minutes played this season.
Running an average of 12-13km a game, it’s perhaps not too surprising that Santamaria has been attracting comparisons to Kanté, but all the evidence suggests he has the potential to be a similarly complete central midfielder. With first-class ball-winning and passing ability combined with the athleticism required for Premier League football, everything points to him being a worthwhile investment for any top-flight club chasing a Champions League spot next season.
That’s before you even consider how much he would cost. Angers are believed to have rejected a £10million offer from Aston Villa earlier this year, but there are suggestions that a deal could be struck at around £14million. That is a bargain in today’s market and will surely have teams fighting for his signature over the coming months.
The era of game-changing bargain basement signings isn’t over yet, and Santamaría could be the next name to star in England after arriving for a rock-bottom fee from the continent.