“About 70 percent of earth surface is covered by water. The rest is covered by N’Golo Kante”.
The above statement became a popular slogan last season as “little” Leicester City closed in on a remarkable English football title – the first in the club’s 133-year history.
A remarkable achievement
It was one of the world’s greatest sporting fairy tales ever, and Kante was one of the key men behind that astounding achievement.
Just 25 years of age and slight in built, Kante became, at the peak of his athletic powers last season, the highly effective engine room of that Leicester team, a midfield dynamo viewed by many to be the most influential player behind that historic success.
Many a football writer labelled him the “secret weapon” and “architect” of Leicester’s glory.
A season later, Kante is playing the same role for firm 2016-17 title favourites Chelsea, having moved over to the London club at the beginning of the season for a transfer fee of 32 million pounds.
Chelsea, under new manager Antonio Conte, are heavily tipped to win the title this season. They lead second-place Manchester City by eight points. In the red-hot form they are, the destiny of the title is firmly in their hands.
Kante has been part of a Chelsea mean machine, which includes such outstanding players as Spanish striker Diego Costa, Brazilian attacking midfielder Willian, Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard, Nigerian winger Victor Moses, among other top-class players.
Going the French route
Kante plays international football for France, the country of his birth.
But he could have played for Mali, the land of his forefathers. He was born in Paris to Malian Muslim immigrant parents.
Kante has played 13 times for the French national team since 2016. But before that, he was approached by Mali, who wanted to include him in their squad for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
The rising star, who then turned out for French club Caen, declined the offer, his argument being that he needed time to establish himself at domestic level.
The West African country would later issue another invite in January 2016. That again was declined by Kante, who had clearly set his sights on an international career with France’s Les Bleus.
The little dynamite was quick to impress in French colours, and following a friendly game with Scotland in June 2016, France coach Didier Deschamps was full of praise for the newcomer.
“Everything looks simple and easy with Kante,” said France’s World Cup-winning captain, himself a Kante type of midfielder in his playing days.
“And I know that it is not always easy. I have played in the same position. Sometimes, it is difficult. But N’Golo knows what he has to do and he does it well, very well, for the team. He can re-launch the game. I am happy for him. He is a discreet man, he is quiet but he is here. And always smiles. Everything he does is fluent.”
The quiet man, on and off
Quite is the word of many Chelsea fans too.
Kante is an effective player, yet his contribution, playing in what many deem a dirty position, is not obviously visible.
Kante has been compared to the great French midfield powerhouse Claude Makelele, although the man himself names his role model as Lasanna Diarra.
Interestingly, both Makelele and Diarra are former French stars with roots in Francophone Africa.
Is he even real?
Last week, former Arsenal hero Thierry Henry said he had to touch Kante to see if he is “real.”
Henry said in his column for the Sun: “I was at the Chelsea training ground last week to see Eden Hazard and noticed N’Golo Kante wandering back to the changing rooms.
“So 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! ‘You are real, you are real!’ I said, and he laughed.
“Well, he may be real – but he’s certainly not normal. And I see no reason why he shouldn’t be PFA Player of the Year at the end of the season.”
Quite a towering endorsement indeed, that, from one of the true icons of English football.