The Curious Case of N'Golo Kanté
Just 9 years ago, this relatively quiet, modest, diminutive and hardworking player was playing his trade in an unheard club in the 8th division of French football. For more than a decade, he was unaware and of little interest to the top tier teams. Playing in the lower leagues, five to six years ago, no one would have ever expected in their dreams that he would be playing a key and instrumental role in France 2018 World Cup winning campaign.
"I think sometimes when I’m on the pitch I see him twice, one on the left, one on the right. I think he plays with a twin, He is a fantastic player and he helps the team a lot.”- Hazard on playing with Kante.
N'Golo Kanté is and has been everywhere when it comes to a football pitch. He not only plays his role flawlessly but also covers for his teammates, and allowing them to focus on scoring goals with ease. Kante is not our standard size midfielder. He is 169cm tall and often comes up short against his opponents, but he makes up for his shortcomings and disadvantages with alertness, resilience, quick game reading, decision making. He has a dominating presence in the final third of the pitch, and it's hard to appreciate him unless you are watching him specifically.
“Most effective midfielder in Europe at the moment, I don’t see anyone with the influence he has on a team. He’s a number six, an eight and a 10. He breaks up play and then sometimes he finishes it off too.”- Red Devils defender Phil Neville
N'Golo Kante was born and brought up in Paris. He comes from a very humble background and without any doubt, football was the top priority for him. He joined JS Suresnes in 2001, a small club in the 8th division of French football. He earned a move to US Boulogne in 2010 and got a chance to play for Boulogne’s reserve team after being snubbed by several clubs. He spent one year at Boulogne's academy, where he played for the reserve team which was in the sixth division.
He made a quick impact and helped the team to win the promotion to the fifth tier. Boulogne's first team was struggling in League 2, and Kante's impressive performance with the reserve side attracted attention. Finally, in 2012, he got a call from their first team, but unfortunately, he got his debut on the last day of the League 2 season. Boulogne was already relegated, and he got to display his ability for hardly 11 minutes.
This was his first step towards success and fame. This is where his career took a turn as he got a chance to play the first professional football match of his life. Kante said to Chelsea FC official website, "Boulogne was in the sixth tier and it was their reserve team that I played for. With the reserve team we got promoted to the fifth tier so then I at that time, I moved up to the first team who was at that time playing in the third division."
He spent two years at Boulogne, making a total of 38 league appearances in the third division of French football. His meteoritic rise through the ranks gained the attention of a lot of clubs in Ligue 2. In the summer of 2013, he moved to Caen, a 2nd division French club. He played every game with a runner-up finish in his first season at the club and helped the team to win the promotion to the top flight. The enormous level of fitness and indispensability to the team meant that he only missed one game in the next season.
“Off the field he was quiet but on the pitch he turned into a monster. I’ve never seen in my life someone run, run and run like he did."- Former Boulogne team-mate Cedric Fabien
Kante who was finally playing in the top flight had a bigger audience and chance to impress more scout of the top European Clubs. It did not take him much time to have an impact in the League 1 as Steve Walsh spotted him and felt that this talented but unproven French player would fit at Foxes. He was the same person who bought Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to the club. He had a hard time convincing Claudio Ranieri because with a height of just 169cm people at Leicester were not assured that he would cope up with the intensity and physicality and demanding nature of English football.
In August 2015, he joined Leicester City. No one foresaw the kind of impact he would make in his first season in Premier League as Foxes, defying all the odds went on to win the Premier League title with Kante playing a key and instrumental role. In next season he moved to English giants Chelsea and helped them to win the League title. He also won the PFA player of the year award in 2017. On 15th July 2016, he lifted the most elusive trophy in football, the FIFA World Cup when France defeated Croatia by 4-2. He was incredible and super impressive throughout the tournament.
4 years on, since his move to Leicester City, Kante has 2 Premier League medals, one FA Cup medal, several individual honours to his name, and now the biggest prize in football, FIFA World Cup trophy. That is some incredible rise for a person who was playing in the 8th division, just 9 years ago. A perfect Cinderella story.