Another year, another championship for someone who we can now call a bonafide superstar in N’Golo Kanté. Originally from Mali, his parents made the trip to Paris in 1980, his birthplace. N’Golo’s family settled in the western suburbs of Paris, where he went on to play football at local side Suresnes. Kanté has had to work extremely hard for his football career to come to fruition, and it is clear to see that determination every single second he’s on the pitch. Young Kanté failed to grab major attention due to his small stature and his selfless style of play but his drive to succeed captivated those around him.
N’Golo just needed one chance. Suresnes’ club hierarchy, specifically club president Jean Pierre Perrinel, were the catalyst that gave N’Golo the opportunity he needed. Club secretary Pierre Ville understood Kanté’s talent very well. Ville describes Kante as someone who is ”so extraordinary, with a very balancing effect.” Kanté’s talent is not as flashy as some, but it’s clear he brings invaluable character to the game.
Kanté overcomes the perceived limitations of his stature by having a natural ability to read the danger. Ville echoes this further when he goes on to describe Kanté; “There is a correlation between his playing style and his innate intelligence. He sees things quickly. It is necessary to be very smart, very focused: to be able to analyse a situation and find space. He takes possession back and 99 times out of 100 he makes the right choice; a great pass and very quickly”.
He managed to secure himself a move to French side Boulogne, whom Suresnes’ club president, who urged them to take a chance on him, had contacts with, and joined up the reserve team in 2010 (who were playing in the 9th division of French football), after his talent was consistently overlooked by the bigger academies like PSG, Rennes and Lorient. This however did not stop the Frenchman from progressing and excelling. After it looked like he would not make his break several times, he stood up tall and grabbed this opportunity with both hands. Kanté impressed and managed to break his way into the first team at the end of 2012, making his debut in a loss to Monaco. The season after, N’Golo consolidated his spot in the first 11 and played all but one game in the league. His performances saw him move to Ligue 2 side Caen, where his career truly finally started to take off. After earning promotion to Ligue 1, Kanté’s reputation grew around France, where he ended the 2014/15 season with the most interceptions in Europe. Leicester City’s chief scout, Steve Walsh, recognized the potential N’Golo had, and Leicester pushed the move through for a mere £5.6m. The rest is history.
Kanté’s playing style draws a lot of mixed opinions. Whilst some see him as a mere ball winner, others go further and say they see him as the best central midfielder in the league. It is important that we find a common ground between both notions. Kanté is technically sufficient as a player on the ball – he has a decent enough touch and passing ability; however it is something that he can improve on. N’Golo’s challenge for next season is to continue to improve his play on the ball and how he affects the final third. It is something he recognises himself. “When I have the pass, [I have] to look forward, to try to make me improve. But also when we have the chance to score, we like to create chances and score. It’s important, sometimes it could make the difference for the team, for the game, and when we have the chances to score, we have to score.” Current manager Antonio Conte reflected these thoughts after Chelsea’s 3-1 win versus Bournemouth in the 2016/17 season, where Kanté managed to grab an assist with a defence splitting pass, “The second goal, it was a good pass,” the Blues boss said. ”I think N’Golo has to improve in this situation. If he is able to, he is a top, top player. We work with all the players to improve them and to try to work on their strengths and also to work on their weaknesses”.
It would not be unfair to say that being denied around France has built N’Golo into this unwavering, determined player he is today. From being rejected multiple times, from having to start from the bottom; PFA Player of the Year 2016/17 N’Golo Kanté is now back to back Premier League champion with different clubs, a feat only achieved by him. He is someone who does not let any perceived limits deter him, someone we can all look up to as an inspiration. N’Golo will still have his critics whom criticise him as nothing but a ball-winner, but his influence on the pitch cannot be denied. He still has the scope to improve, but history tells us that N’Golo is not averse to a challenge. A quiet, humbled man off the pitch, but a mammoth on it.
By: Thomas Anderson/@andoculture