The Unheralded but Indispensable N’Golo Kanté
N’Golo Kanté rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as the likes of De Bruyne and Mbappé. As is the case with most defensive midfielders, Kanté often goes unnoticed, but he is arguably one of the most complete players of the last decade. The Frenchman can match the positioning skills of Rakitić, the box-to-box coverage of Busquets, and the precision-passing of Xabi Alonso. He does it all, consistently.
Kanté started his career in the French second division with Boulougne, but after two seasons without playing first-team football, Caen took a chance on him—and it paid off. The hard-working midfielder instantly came into the side and helped Caen achieve promotion to Ligue 1.
In 2014-15, his first season in top-flight football, he helped them to a solid mid-table finish and started attracting attention from bigger clubs. After just two exceptional campaigns in the north of France, Kanté was snapped up by Leicester City.
The Midas Touch
At Leicester, which avoided relegation the season before, Kanté picked up where he left off. He slotted straight into a side that would go on to shock the world (per the bookies, Leicester City had 5,000-to-1 odds to win the championship at the beginning of the season). With Ranieri at the helm, Vardy in the form of his life, and Mahrez pulling the strings, Leicester won the Premier League.
Kanté was absurdly good that season. The reserved, slight midfielder covered every blade of grass, breaking up attacks and bringing balance to a squad that boasted immense attacking firepower.
His importance was quickly recognized, and after just one season with Leicester, Kanté joined Chelsea, where he also had an immediate impact. The Blues won the league under Antonio Conte in the 2016-17 season.
A year later, at the 2018 World Cup, Kanté was a vital part of a France team that won it all. Everything he touched between 2015 and 2018 turned to gold.
Chelsea has had a tumultuous couple of seasons since winning the league in 2017. With Frank Lampard in charge, Kanté’s role has evolved. He isn’t just breaking up plays, he is scoring goals and participating more offensively.
Recent reports have linked the Frenchman to a move away from Stamford Bridge, and given Chelsea’s need to revamp their squad, it might be time to move on for one of the best defensive midfielders the Premier League has seen.
Illustration by @inakivector.
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