At Euro 2016, N’Golo Kanté was an unused substitute in the final as France lost in extra time to Portugal. It came mere months after Kanté had been a figurehead of football’s most unlikely underdog story; Leicester City winning the Premier League despite being considered favourites for relegation. Didier Deschamps learned his lesson – Kanté played every game of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, in which no side lay a glove on Les Bleus on their way to a dominant 4-2 final win over Croatia.
In this summer’s European Championships, Kanté is no longer an under-the-radar trendy pick for football hipsters but a superstar name. Quiet by nature and playing an unsung position in defensive midfield, Kanté has never embraced the spotlight. But as France look to undo the mistake of letting slip a major title on home soil, pre-tournament Euro betting odds put Kanté among the favourites to win Player of the Tournament at 14/1. Although still unaccustomed to rubbing shoulders with Europe’s biggest names like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin de Bruyne, should Kanté leads France to another major tournament win, he’ll be seeing them again at the Ballon d’Or ceremony this December.
France president Emmanuel Macron backs N’Golo Kante for the Ballon d’Or 🏆🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/Lx4gSYJR4Z
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 10, 2021
Kanté is only one massive name in a French squad full of talent. Perhaps chief among his rivals for football’s biggest individual award is Kylian Mbappé – the world’s second-most expensive player won the Ligue 1 Golden Boot for a third year running and terrorised opposing defences in the process. In Mbappé, surely a factor in Ballon d’Or debates for the next decade at least, France have one of the most exciting young players in football. With Kanté and Paul Pogba holding down the midfield, it gives the likes of Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann the freedom to burst forward and get behind the defensive line. Superb as he is individually, Kanté will never want for quality around him.
Honours for Club and Country
Indeed, for a player who embarked on that incredible journey with Leicester City, 2020/21 may have been Kanté’s best club campaign yet. Winner of the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea, Kanté was seen by many pundits as the driving force of Thomas Tuchel’s European champions. Kanté almost single-handedly declawed Real Madrid over the two-legged semi-final with his tireless running, relentless pressure and ball-hawking interceptions. Opposing sides hate to face Kanté – although diminutive in size, at times it feels like Kanté does the workload of two players at once.
Next season, Kanté will be at the heart of a Chelsea side expected to challenge for the Premier League title after just barely making the top four this campaign. Tuchel’s side, known in the later stages of the season as a defensive unit nearly impossible to break down, seemingly has all the tools to challenge the incumbent Manchester City. But if they are to dethrone Pep Guardiola’s giants, who outscored every Premier League team last season, they will need better consistency over the course of the year.
One thing is for sure – no one at Chelsea need worry about the play of N’Golo Kanté.