It seems almost unfair that the headlines surrounding Leicester’s unbelievable Premier League title triumph last season were reserved for the record-breaking goal run of Jamie Vardy, mesmerising tricks of Mahrez and endearing pressroom antics of ex-manager Ranieri.
Look a little deeper, and few pundits will disagree with the fact that someone else - a much quieter, unassuming individual - really deserved the limelight.
N’Golo Kante’s performance for Leicester last season was absolutely mind boggling. He ran further and for more prolonged stretches of time than seems feasible and even became the first player in Europe’s top five leagues to win over 100 tackles. All this from an incredibly quiet guy.
Kante rewrote the rulebook for the midfield engine room. And, while it was undoubtedly a team effort that led to Leicester lifting the Premier League trophy, they simply wouldn’t have done it without Kante.
Inevitably, his midfield prowess earned him many admirers within the top flight of English football, and Kante eventually left Leicester to join Chelsea for a fee of around £30million - a potential bargain when compared to the £80 million plus achieved for players with whom Kante can undoubtedly be compared.
So, how does he do it? In this post, I’ve picked out four ways Kante silently and masterfully commands the midfield.
1. He sacrifices
Kante’s leading strength is his ability to shun the limelight and play that all-important pass when other, more selfish players might be tempted to do it all themselves.
A brilliant passer of the ball, N’Golo will always opt for that perfect pass over a wildly speculative effort on his part - a sacrifice few players at his level are willing to make on a regular basis.
2. He plays it simple
How many times do we hear pundits and managers berating teams for trying to walk the ball into the back of the net? “Keep it simple!” they shout from the sidelines - and they’re right; football is, and always has been, an incredibly simple game.
Kante knows this, which is why he only makes runs when necessary, swaps hopeful long balls for short passes and only has a crack at the goal himself when there’s a high chance of scoring.
3. He knows the importance of timing
That one-hundred tackle stat from last season tells a compelling story about the way in which Kante approaches this particular art form.
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Get a tackle wrong, and you might find yourself heading for the dressing room. Get it right, and you’ll regain possession cleanly for your team. That’s why timing is everything with tackling, and Kante knows how to time his tackles to perfection.
4. He’s disciplined (and then some)
Picking up pointless bookings is as frustrating as it is daft, which is why players of Kante’s ability base their game around solid discipline.
The midfield is a battleground, and it can be tempting to ‘let him know you’re there’ as soon as you step onto the pitch, but in doing so, you simply put the rest of the team at risk. Learn instead from Kante, who uses his tackling nous to remain level-headed and out of the ref’s little black book.
Kante has already proved that last season wasn’t a flash in the pan by continuing his stellar form at Chelsea. The guy is a joy to watch and a lesson for every aspiring young footballer out there. If you’ve got kids, point them in Kante’s direction.