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N’Golo Kante: The accountant who turned omnipresent midfielder



First , the numbers . In the past three seasons , N ’ Golo Kante has played 129 club matches for Chelsea and Leicester City, scoring four goals and providing seven assists . In roughly the same time frame , he has played 29 matches for France , with a goal and an assist . So he ’ s not a goal -scorer or goal provider .He has got a total of 21 yellow cards in that same period , and not a single sending -off – so he ’ s not really a defender either , with those last – ditch tackles , taking one for the team .

At 168 cm – shorter than Xherdan Shaqiri, shorter than Tuesday ’ s opponent Dries Mertens – you could miss him on the pitch amid the muscled – up giants of the modern game .

And yet , in those three seasons , Kante has seen his market valuation go from € 9 m , when Leicester signed him from French club Caen , to € 36 m , when they sold him to Chelsea , to the € 100 m Chelsea are now reportedly demanding of any club that wishes to sign him now .

N ’ Golo Kante has been one of the breakout stars of the 2018 World Cup and if France win it all , he ’ ll have played a major part .

In those three seasons , Kante has won the Premier League title twice – with different clubs – and been voted player of the year by his Premier League peers and by the English football writers ’ association , each a difficult constituency to please .

On Tuesday , Kante was the wall standing between Belgium ’ s star- studded attack and the French goal they couldn ’ t penetrate .

So , for those who’ ve come in late , who is N ’ Golo Kante and why is he important to club and country ?

The second part first . Kante’ s role, in one line , is to stop the opposition ’ s attacks before they become dangerous, anywhere on the pitch, and to then start his own team ’ s movement forward before the opposition has time to organise itself . It sounds simple and complex at the same time – how could one man do both jobs , and all over the pitch?

And that ’ s the key to Kante: His ability to be wherever the danger is – or , actually , a second before the danger arises . That explains those facts above: He is not interested in scoring goals , he is not necessarily the player who will pass to the scorer either . His job is to anticipate , intercept , pass , anticipate . As France ’ s coach Didier Deschamps said on Monday : “ He is an essential part of our plan . You don’ t want to just steal the ball from your opponents . Kante uses the ball , he has a lot of trajectories for his passing . ”

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Deschamps would have an affinity with Kante ; he was dismissed as the water carrier in his playing days by Eric Cantona – his sole role being to pass the ball to his team – mates . Kante is the water -collector and carrier . The ultimate firefighter .

So how does his play help his team ? Basically , by enabling swift counter attacks. Leicester City’ s game plan was built around the speed of their striker Jamie Vardy , who would run at opposing defences in a quick counter ; the key was to get the ball to him as fast as possible once his team had the ball . France use a similar style with the tear away Kylian Mbappe . Chelsea have Eden Hazard . They all need someone who can turn a threatening move against their team into a threatening move by their team in the shortest possible time, before the opposition can recoup .

That ’ s what Kante does .

He is an unlikely star on YouTube , with clips focusing on his reading of the game and his ability to cover distance at speed . One short clip – 20 -odd seconds – features a sequence where he gives away the ball , then wins it back three times in succession each time a team – mate gives it away.

The most common description of Kante is that he ’ s everywhere at one time . It’ s what Steve Walsh , the Leicester scout who spotted him while he was playing in France , says about him . “ When I first saw him ( playing for French club Caen ) I thought ‘ is there two of him ?”

When Leicester improbably won the Premier League title in 2016 , the joke was that they won it with three players in midfield – Danny Drinkwater in the middle and Kante on either side of him .

Those jokes – born out of sheer incredulity – followed him to Chelsea . His club team -mate Hazard , Belgium ’ s captain and creative force who Kante stopped in Russia , said : “ Sometimes , when I ’ m on the pitch, I think I see him twice . One on the left , one on the right. I think we play with twins. ”

Marcel Desailly , a former France captain , tweeted this probably unoriginal joke when Kante was helping Chelsea to the league title in 2017 , “ 71 % of the earth is covered by water. The rest is covered by N ’ Golo Kante . ”

That same season , Thierry Henry – who is now on the Belgium coaching staff – wrote of his visit to a Chelsea training session : “ I went over to him and stood in front of him . And I poked him in the chest . I had to , just to check if he was real !”

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And yet all of this might not have happened . Kante’ s football career began late – so late that , at 21 , when his current peers were making their first millions , winning their first championship medals , making their first headlines , Kante was still studying for a diploma in vocational accounting.

The problem was his size; no academy in France signed him because of his height . Perhaps it was understandable ; there is a picture of Kante, pre – teen, with his local club team – mates after winning a trophy. There is only a couple of years ’ age difference but he is about half the height of the others , a baby among boys . Watching him in training today presents a similar image : a boy among men .

But he had quality and he had determination. He finally made his professional debut at 21 , for Bolougne against Monaco , and his progress since then has been swift . Yet, like an expert tackler , he has kept both feet on the ground . In an age of football stars driving Ferraris and Lamborghinis , Kante drives a Mini – it was the first car he bought when he moved to England in 2015 and it was easy for him to learn how to drive in it . The story goes that he bought the car only after being persuaded to abandon his plan of running to training every day . There’ s a lovely video out there of a doorman at the plush Chelsea Harbour Hotel , where the club team assembles before matches , kitted out in top hat and formal coat and opening the door of the Mini Cooper for Kante .

Kante is also notoriously reserved . Those who’ ve spent long spells of time with him – whether team – mates who drove him to training , or a flatmate back in France – remember him saying absolutely nothing . But occasionally he would break into that innocent, gap – toothed smile. He hasn ’ t given too many interviews but one journalist who has interviewed him , Jonathan Northcroft of the Sunday Times , writes of “ the genuineness of the look in his eyes ” .

In a game that has at one level become increasingly complex , with multiple systems and formations, Kante keeps things simple . Where the game celebrates its goalscorers , dribblers and creative geniuses , Kante minds the baseline . He never did become the accountant but out on the field , Kante is the one who will ensure his team remains on the credit side .

– Courtesy