In the summer of 2015, an uncapped 24-year-old, N’Golo Kante completed a £7 million pound move from French outfit SM Caen to Leicester City. In doing so, the Frenchman became Claudio Ranieri’s first signing as the Foxes’ manager since taking over from Nigel Pearson.
Kante’s move didn’t manage to muster even a fraction of the attention or excitement that his countryman Dimitri Payet’s move to West Ham generated. But the club’s scout, Steve Walsh, the man who brought the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy into the club, knew what he was getting into when he pushed the Foxes to sign his man from SM Caen.
Kante’s journey from the suburbs of Paris, to within touching distance of Premier League glory at the East Midlands club is straight out of the material for an inspiring sports flick. Getting into the sport at the age of 10, upon insistence of his school teacher, Kante joined JS Suresnes, a local club in Paris. Over the years he attended countless unsuccessful trials at a number of France’s big names, before finally being picked up by Boulogne, a side plying their trade in Ligue 3 of French Football. The then 19 year-old spent two years in the side’s reserve outfit before breaking into the first team.
A mercurial arrival into Top-level football
A spectacular first full season with the Boulogne senior team earned N’Golo a free move to Ligue 2 side SM Caen. His path-breaking form in midfield in his first season helped the side from Normandie force a return to Ligue 1 after being relegated in 2012. An equally impressive first top-flight season saw him help Caen to a 13th place finish. His exploits in the 2014/15 season forced some of the more fancied names in European football to look up and take notice of the young man. None more so flattering than Arsene Wenger himself, who showed interest in the impressive attributes of his fellow countryman and looked set to table a deal before Leicester jumped in. On August 3, 2015, N’Golo Kante was a Premier League footballer completing a meteoric rise to top-level football considering that only 3 years ago, he was competing in the third tier of the French Football League.
A Star in the making
Almost eight months in, Kante is bearing the fruits of his move to England, with Leicester City launching the most audacious challenge for the English League title in recent memory. A call-up to the French national side, followed by a goal on his debut for Les Bleus against Russia, has only made a breakthrough season all the more exciting for the Parisien. His performances for club and country has enabled him to present Didier Deschamps with a decent case for a place in the Euro 2016 squad.
What makes N’Golo special?
Kante’s productivity on the ball and his ingenious ability to intercept opponents’ play and win back possession is part of what sets up many of Leicester City’s devastating counter-attacks. The Frenchman averages at least 4.4 tackles and 4.2 interceptions every game, which is the highest by any player in the Premier League this season followed by Aston Villa’s Idrissa Gueye. At 82%, he also holds the highest pass accuracy for a Leicester City player. Along with Mahrez, Drinkwater and Albrighton, Kante has formed a lethal midfield quartet to aid their front-men, each having a crucial role to play in the side’s fortunes.
Wait, intercept, attack!
Leicester City have scored an awful lot of goals for a side that has maintained an inferior possession rate over their opponents, and have also been incredibly tight at the back. They primarily let the opposition take the game to them and look to attack immediately on the counter once they win back possession.
In the aforementioned style of play, a side stands to garner very few chances during game-time and would require an extra-ordinary conversion rate to help secure three points at the end of the day. Boy, have the Foxes done that. With the services of the likes of Riyad Mahrez, to a striker of the prowess of Jamie Vardy, the East Midlands’ side are marching on slowly and steadily to a maiden English League title.
Each and every player completes his part of a Leicester City jigsaw puzzle that has fitted in perfectly for ‘Tinkerman’ Claudio Ranieri. And if the past few game-weeks in the BPL are anything to go by, Leicester would realise just how big a chunk of that jigsaw N’Golo Kante is in midfield. His take-ons and high number of successful tackles have helped the Foxes grind out and maintain narrow margins of victories against some tricky opponents, just like potential title winners do.
With all the hullabaloo surrounding fellow-teammates Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, Kante has been going about his job quietly at centre-midfield, taking hardly any credit for his side’s incredible run this season. Standing at a measly height of 5’5 ft, one would be foolish to be enticed by his baby-faced looks and overlook the beast of a player he is.
Big guns come calling
His form has given rise to numerous rumours linking him to Arsenal, with the French manager reportedly ready to renew his interest, having missed out on his man a year ago. Chelsea are also keen on securing his services after news of back-door talks of a summer transfer to the blue half of London began to surface. With Kante apparently refusing a new contract that would tie him down to the Foxes, there is reason enough to believe the 25-year-old is headed to a bigger club this summer.
The future is bright for Kante and Les Bleus
Kante is part of a generation of immensely talented French players who seem set to take on the best in the game and become world beaters. With Didier Deschamps having a handful of players to choose from for every on-field position, the foundation is well and truly set for the current lot to emulate the likes of Zidane, Makalele, Thuram, Henry, Vieira etc from an erstwhile era in French Football. As hosts of the 2016 edition of the European Championships this summer, France has a lot riding on them, knowing that the last time they hosted a major international event, they went on to win it in 1998 (FIFA World Cup).
That said, N’Golo Kante has undoubtedly had the best few months of his professional football career in a season that could well see him lift the Premier League title with the Foxes, and also potentially join his countrymen in a bid to earn the bragging rights to be called the best in Europe. He sure has come a long way from painfully disappointing trials to the cusp of professional footballing glory.