N’Golo Kante is a great story. One of those fairy tales that rarely even happens with regens on Football Manager or FIFA. Five years ago, he was playing in the Championnat National, the French third division. Now, he is a two-time Premier League winner, a PFA Player of the Year, a Ballon d’Or nominee and a World Cup winner. But as remarkable as his professional story is, it is his conduct on and off the pitch that makes him standout even more.
Humble Beginnings of N’Golo Kante
Many players get their big first-team break in their late teens. N’Golo Kante, however, started playing regular first-team football in the French Ligue 2 at the age of 22.
He didn’t come through an academy at a club like an Ajax, a PSG or a Manchester United. Playing for a big club was never the end goal for him, let alone receiving a Ballon d’Or nomination. Kante just wanted to play football. And he didn’t come to the attention of big clubs in his early years due to his small stature and selflessness on the pitch. In the 2012-13 season, at the ripe age of 22, he was still trying to break through to the first team at third division club, Boulogne.
His coaches at youth club Suresnes had this to say about him: “Breaking through from our level to pro is almost impossible; like a lottery win,”
“Kanté always needed some time. He was always modest and quiet, never took any offense when I had to put him in the weaker teams. When he played with good players the other team wouldn’t stand a chance. The balance was right with him playing against stronger opposition.”
“…he stood out for me immediately. It wasn’t because of some amazing skill or play. He just didn’t stop running, he kept running no matter what.”
Leicester City and the Miracle Year
Kante was scouted for Leicester City by scout Steve Walsh while he played for SM Caen in his one and only season in Ligue 1. Walsh deserves a lot of credit for this since he also helped bring Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to the Foxes.
In his one and only season in Ligue 1, Kante held his own in midfield duels against the likes of Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi (both PSG), Dimitri Payet (Marseille) and Corentin Tolisso (Lyon). The latter three becoming his future national teammates en route to winning the World Cup in 2018.
At 24, he joined perennial relegation-battlers, Leicester City, in the Premier League for a reported £8 million in the summer of 2015. To this day, it remains the most amount of money Caen have received from the sale of any player in its history.
What transpired next will go down as the greatest season in English football’s history. It is unlikely Leicester’s unexpected feat will ever be matched again, let alone toppled.
Leicester winning the Premier League with Kante as its engine was no fluke. It was a season of everything coming together at the right time. All the pieces fit together perfectly. It is a testament to the influence that Kante had on that squad that the Foxes have since struggled to come anywhere near their title-winning performances in the two seasons after his departure to Chelsea.
N’Golo Kante is now a world-renowned superstar. And it is a credit to his personality and attitude that he doesn’t even know it. He is everything a 2018 footballer is not. Humble, modest and down-to-earth. The fact that he is a world-class footballer, arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world currently, and his personality still outshines his footballing ability says a lot about him as a person and as a role model to kids around the world.
At 27, he is at the zenith of his footballing career. Part of a Chelsea team which has won all seven of its first seven games this season and part of a World Cup-winning France team which will only get better in the next four years. The present and the future is N’Golo Kante. A role model footballer and a role model person.