N’Golo Kante is the rarest of footballers. He is a superstar without ego or bravado, one not swayed by the riches of the modern-day game or fazed by his global status.
It’s why Kante is universally liked. Even the most ardent rival fan, the most partisan of non-Chelsea supporter, has a soft spot for the 29-year-old.
Kante’s humility is perhaps even more remarkable given his success, and particularly the rapid nature of it. As recently as 2014, the midfielder was playing in the Frech second tier. A year earlier he was in the semi-professional Championnat National.
He has since won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, and the Europa League at club level. And with France, he lifted, only after encouragement from his teammates, the 2018 World Cup.
Despite those achievements, many appear to misunderstand exactly what makes Kante so special.
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He arrived at Chelsea in the summer of 2016 having helped Leicester City win the most unlikely of titles. He was the lungs of the Foxes side, covering an inordinate amount of ground as part of a midfield two alongside Danny Drinkwater. Let’s not forget the joke: 70% of the Earth is covered by water, the rest by N’Golo Kante.
During his first season at Stamford Bridge, Kante continued to do what made him so successful at the King Power. Stationed alongside Nemanja Matic in the middle of Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3, the Frenchman was free to shut down swathes of the pitch and take the ball of anyone brave enough to try to beat him.
Kante was instrumental to Chelsea’s title win that season. In the process, he became the first player to lift back-to-back Premier League trophies with two different clubs.
His second campaign at Stamford Bridge ended with an FA Cup win. But alongside the ineffective Tiemoue Bakayoko, Kante was unable to flourish. He simply had too much to do.
Then Maurizio Sarri arrived.