Soccer

N’Golo Kante’s rise to the top: a tale of humility, hunger and heroism

N’Golo Kante’s rise to the top: a tale of humility, hunger and heroism
GARBER SPORTS

N’Golo Kante can tackle your imaginary friends.

That’s just one of many statements professed by the parody Twitter account ‘Kante Facts’ which has grown in popularity since the French midfielder moved to England in 2015.

The nature of the account illustrates what Kante now resembles – an unlikely and rare hybrid of both a truly sensational player and a genuine cult hero.

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Kante’s rise to the very top of the game is all the more remarkable given his humble beginnings and continued understated lifestyle since turning professional.

In the 2016/17 season he’s likely to become the first player since French compatriot Eric Cantona to win the Premier League in successive seasons with two different clubs.

But the odds were really stacked against him…

CHILDHOOD

Kante’s parents made the journey to Paris from Mali in 1980, 11 years before the Chelsea player was born.

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By the age of 12, while playing for local side Suresnes where the likes of Sylvain Distin and Armand Traore learnt their trade, he was garnering attention from some of France’s biggest clubs.

But PSG, Rennes and Lorient all snubbed the opportunity to add him to their youth academies because at that age they felt he was too small and therefore not ready to make the cut.

You can see why…

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EARLY CAREER

Kante stayed with Suresnes until 2011, when he was snapped up by French amateur side Boulogne in the ninth tier of the country’s league ladder.

That means just six years ago Kante was playing in the French equivalent of the Combined Counties League.

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At Boulogne, Kante used to ride a child’s scooter to training every day because he couldn’t afford a car. Even when he made the step into Ligue 1 with Caen he only upgraded to a Renault Clio, while his modern day mini at Chelsea illustrates his continued desire to shun a decadent lifestyle.

Cedric Fabien, one of his former Boulogne team-mates, once said: “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.

“He was so naturally fit he could have finished a match and then gone home and done a marathon… and then probably have a kickabout with his friends!”

CAEN AND LEICESTER

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It was when Kante joined Caen that his indestructible ways first really came to light.

One of the ongoing jokes about his powers as a player is his ability to be here, there and everywhere, but his appearance record suggests there’s more than a bit of truth behind it.

In two seasons at Caen he missed just a single game, through suspension, and he similarly missed just one elcash during Leicester’s title winning campaign, again after picking up five bookings.

It’s the same story at Chelsea this season too, with Kante sitting out a Premier League game just once against Bournemouth through suspension.

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Injury simply isn’t a word in his vocabulary.

Steve Walsh brought him to Leicester in 2015 as a £5.6m signing that went massively under the radar, but it didn’t take long for people to start taking notice.

By the end of the season Kante was one of four Foxes players to make the PFA Team of the Year after making a season high 175 tackles and 157 interceptions over the course of the campaign.

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CHELSEA

Kante’s £32m move to Stamford Bridge now looks like one of the finest bargains in Premier League history.

Considering Manchester United forked out a world record £89m for Paul Pogba and Kante completely outplayed him during Chelsea’s FA Cup win over the Red Devils, it’s a snip compared to how much he might be worth now.

Antonio Conte’s liquid 3-4-3 formation has brought even more from Kante, who has shown more of an attacking side to his game than he did at Leicester.

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In fact, Phil Neville went as far as saying he fulfils the number six, eight and ten roles all at one time.

The praise has been relentless for a man who doesn’t really seem fazed by the added attention, with Frank Lampard claiming he’s probably the best central midfielder on the planet right now.

Kante himself has rubbished those claims – as he would.

On the subject, the 26-year-old said: “My current form? I am flourishing, but I don’t feel like the best player in the Premier League.

“There are a lot of good players. A lot of guys would deserve that title on my team.”

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“He did not socialise much. He liked to keep himself to himself and never went to parties,” another one of his ex-team mates said.

“N’Golo has never wanted to be a superstar and even today I know he isn’t bothered by fame. He just wants to be the best he can be.”

As a regular for France and a double Premier League champion in waiting, there isn’t particularly far for Kante to go career wise from here.

WHAT NEXT?

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The Champions League will test his growing credentials even further but given the way he’s adapted to life in England so assuredly, where so many have failed before him, it should be a walk in the park.

His comparisons with Claude Makelele are obvious but Kante is now proving he’s of a different breed, offering considerably more in the final third than the Chelsea legend ever did.

The tough-tackling, mini-driving phenomenon is an oxymoron, but his on-field style matched with his off-field demeanour means he’s captured the hearts of everyone.

A true, modern legend…


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Soccer
GARBER SPORTS
@garbersports

Garber Sports Chief Editor

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