The Red Devils are wary of handing lucrative deals to ageing players (Pictures: Getty)

Manchester United have gone cold on a swoop for Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante over fears they could be walking into a Willian-shaped mistake, according to reports.

New boss Erik ten Hag is keen to strengthen his midfield this summer and wants to sign both a defence-orientated holding midfielder and a more attack-minded playmaker to replace Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba respectively.

Frenkie de Jong – who played under the new United boss at Ajax – is Ten Hag’s top choice for the more offensive role, though the Barcelona star says he would ‘prefer to stay’ at Camp Nou.

Ten Hag wants a defensive midfielder and Kante could be available (Picture: Getty)

For the defensive role, the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice have been linked with United, though the latter will be too expensive and the former is unwilling to leave Leeds for their biggest rivals.

That has seen Kante come into the picture as a potential option, with the 31-year-old out of contract next summer and Chelsea rumoured to be willing to cash in on both the Frenchman and fellow contract rebel Jorginho.

But, after some initial interest in signing the World Cup winner, The Telegraph claim United’s hierarchy are now distancing themselves from a move.

The club, along with Ten Hag, want to change the profile of players they target and Kante does not exactly fit the young, hungry mould they are looking for.

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Moreover, Arsenal’s decision to sign Willian on a free transfer from Chelsea has been cited around Old Trafford as an example of the ‘pitfalls’ associated with signing high-profile, veteran players on big wages.

The Brazilian was handed a three-year deal worth around £240,000-a-week but left the club just 12 months into his contract by mutual consent, ripping up his deal to re-join Corinthians after ‘the worst time that he had lived as a professional’.

The 33-year-old was one of Arsenal’s highest earners but started just 16 Premier League matches, scoring only once.

A Willian-style signing is exactly what United want to avoid (Picture: Getty)

United had a very similar experience with Alexis Sanchez and, just two-and-a-half years after signing the Chilean from Arsenal, agreed to pay part of his salary to facilitate a move to Inter Milan.

Kante, meanwhile, had a very inconsistent season for Chelsea and was hampered by a string of injuries, though Tuchel still believes he is a ‘key’ player for his side.

‘I think he is our key, key player but key players need to be on the pitch,’ said the Chelsea boss earlier this month. He plays only 40 per cent of the games and it’s maybe a miracle we arrive in third place because he is our Mo Salah, he is our Virgil van Dijk, he is our Kevin De Bruyne.

‘He is simply that player, he is our Neymar, our Kylian Mbappe. He is the guy who makes the difference, if you only have him 40 per cent it’s a huge problem.’

MORE : Frenkie de Jong tells Manchester United he prefers to stay at Barcelona

MORE : Ajax set big asking price for Manchester United to sign top Erik ten Hag target Jurrien Timber

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