N’Golo Kante the Chelsea midfield dynamo was born in Paris, France, on the 29th of March 1991 to Malian parents.
Kante began his career at the age of eight (8) at JS Suresnes in the western suburbs of Paris, remaining there for a decade. According to Assistant Manager Pierre Ville, Kanté remained outside the radar of big teams because of his small stature and selfless style of play.
In fact in one television documentary, the technical team were unanimous in saying Kante’s short stature resulted in him being overlooked by many football scouts and affected his confidence a wee bit, to the extent that he hardly smiled during training sessions.
He made his senior debut at Boulogne and then spent two seasons at Caen, the latter in Ligue 1.
Back to back ‘firsts’
In 2015, he joined Leicester City for a fee of £5.6 million and became an integral member of the club’s first ever Premier League win in his only season at the club.
The following year, he joined Chelsea for a reported fee of £32 million, winning the league again in his first season.
He also won the PFA Players’ of the Year and the Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year and became the first outfield player to win back-to-back Premier League titles with different clubs.
How many times have I written the word ‘first’ already? Well I guess this is indicative of this short and shy footballer’s achievements in a short space of time in the football limelight.
Starring at Leicester
Kante was scouted for Premier League club Leicester City by Steve Walsh, who had previously facilitated the transfers of current Leicester heroes Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
On 3 August 2015, he joined Leicester on a four-year contract, for an undisclosed fee reported to be £5.6 million. Kante made his Leicester debut five days later by replacing Vardy for the final eight minutes of a 4–2 home win over Sunderland.
On 7 November, he scored his first Premier League goal in a 2–1 home win against Watford and from then on he was the first name on Claudio Ranieri’s first eleven team sheet.
He earned much praise and many plaudits for his consistently impressive displays for Leicester and was widely considered to be a major factor in the club’s excellent form as they went on to win the Premier League for the first time in their 132 year history.
Kante consistently made a high number of tackles and interceptions as Leicester cruised to their shock Premiership title. In April 2016, he was one of four Leicester players named in the PFA Team of the Year.
By the end of that season, the Frenchman had managed 175 tackles (31 more than any other player) and 157 interceptions (15 more than any other player), topping the defensive stats at the end of the 2015–16 Premier League season. Awesome statistics there!
Leicester’s loss, Chelsea’s gain
It came as no surprise at the end of the season when Kante was the only key member of the squad to leave the club in the summer of 2016. His departure proved a major factor in Leicester’s sharp decline in form in the 2016–17 season, as the club was unable to find an equally gritty midfielder to replace him.
On 16 July 2016, Kante signed for Chelsea for a reported fee of £32 million. After signing a five-year contract with the club, Kante said: “I am so happy to have signed for one of the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Kante was given the number 7 shirt previously worn by Ramires who left Chelsea for the Chinese league.
On 15 August 2016, Kante made his competitive debut in Chelsea’s season opener against West Ham United. Despite picking up a yellow card in the first three minutes of the game, Kante shone like a beacon as the game went on, to help Chelsea to a 2–1 victory.
Three months after his move to Stamford Bridge, he faced his former side, Leicester City for the first time and was voted man of the match in a 3–0 victory. On the 23rd of October 2016, he scored his first goal for Chelsea in a 4–0 home win against Manchester United and what a great goal it was!
On the 13th of March 2017, he was named man of the match again as he scored the only goal, in an FA Cup quarter-final win over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. He seems to have a knack of scoring against Manchester United, a team that wanted to sign him in competition with Chelsea.
On the 20th of April 2017, Kante was named in the PFA Team of the Year for the second consecutive season. He was also later named the PFA Player of the Year, the FWA Player of the Year, and the Premier League Player of the Season.
Kante became the first player since Eric Cantona in 1993 to win back to back top-flight titles in England with two different clubs and guess what Eric Cantona wore the famous number 7 jersey!
Making his France debut
On the international scene, Kante was approached by Mali ahead of the 2015 African Cup of Nations having not played for France in any of their age group teams.
Kanté declined on the basis that he was still trying to establish himself in Ligue 1. Mali issued a further invitation to Kanté in January 2016, again he asked for time to make the right decision.
On the 17th of March 2016, Kante was selected for the France senior squad for the first time to face the Netherlands and Russia in friendlies. He made his debut against the Netherlands eight days later, replacing his role model Lassana Diarra at half time in a 3–2 win at the Amsterdam Arena.
On his 25th birthday, 29 March 2016, he made his first start and scored to open a 4–2 win over Russia at the Stade de France.
On the 10th of June 2016, Kante appeared in his first competitive match for France by starting the opening match of Euro 2016 against Romania.
Kanté played the entire match, made the most passes, the most tackles, the most interceptions, covered the most distance on the pitch and assisted Dimitri Payet’s winning goal in a 2–1 victory. He literally did everything for the French national team that day.
It came as no surprise when Sir Alex Ferguson (the best football manager in the Premiership era) declared that “Kante is by far the best player in the league” during the 2016-2017 season.
Reminiscent of Makelele
In coming up with this article I failed to find the right superlatives to describe this short, shy but dynamic, combative and creative midfield workhorse who reminds many of one of Chelsea’s greatest central midfielders to play a similar role, the one, the only Claude Makelele, the midfield enforcer par excellence.
Kanté remains for me, the best signing by Antonio Conte to date and I can’t help but wait in excitement at the prospect of watching him play alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko, our latest signing from Monaco.
This midfield combination for Chelsea will be a fortress and therefore our greatest advantage in the forthcoming season.
Written by Spencer Joubert
Follow Spencer on Twitter @SpencerJoubert
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