Kante played a crucial role in the Blues’ Champions League triumph this season, as he added to his Premier League and World Cup winner’s medals
Etter 90 minutes where N’Golo Kante was apparently everywhere, everyone now came to him. The final whistle in Porto saw so many team-mates embrace him, and lift him to the sky, but also so many of the world’s media want a piece on him. Kante had to be coaxed into a few interviews as well as a press conference, but this certainly wasn’t any star throwing a strop. It was the opposite.
Kante wanted to celebrate with his team-mates, and couldn’t really understand the fuss. He probably wouldn’t even see himself as a star.
Whatever about a star, Kante is one of the best players in the world, and should be the prime candidate for the Ballon d’Or.
There is obviously far too much emphasis on that individual award in the modern game, but it would still feel appropriate – and overdue – official recognition of Kante’s brilliance for him to win it.
There are a few reasons why he hasn’t come close yet, none of them anything to do with his talent.
One is that he is the wrong type of “personality”. This is where his reluctance to engage with any of the modern trappings of the game works against him. Most of the biggest stars have huge entourages. Some have got to the point – in the wake of the completely selfless work of figures like Marcus Rashford – where they are considering what political causes their players should push because it boosts their media profile. That kind of constant visibility sways voters.
Kante is only constantly visible on the pitch. He has no interest in any of the rest of it. He just wants to play.
Another issue, derimot, is that he is the wrong type of player. He isn’t flashy. He isn’t a playmaker. He is seen as a “defensive midfielder” – something of an irony given how the Champions League final went.
It is getting to the point where he has been miscast.
Kante’s defensive qualities are of course a huge part of his game, where his mental sharpness and physical relentlessness see him fill a gap before anyone has even realised it is there. But his attacking qualities probably aren’t given the due they should be.
Kante is not just better than anyone at closing down opposition sides. He is as good as almost anyone at opening opposition sides up.
This is mostly with those sudden bursts – where he again spots a gap before anyone else – that see him surge upfield with the ball, completely transforming the stage of play as a game. Defence is instantly turned into attack. It is joyous to watch, and exhilarating. The best example of this was the semi-final second leg against Real Madrid. Timo Werner’s opening goal came from a Kante burst, where he exchanged a wondrously fluid one-two with the striker. This is another aspect of the midfielder’s game that deserves more recognition. We are a long way from Antonio Conte working with him to improve his final ball. So many of Chelsea’s best moves involve Kante at the centre, linking play so well. Thomas Tuchel has realised that extra value, and fully integrated it into his attacking idea for the team.
That semi-final was the second of three consecutive Champions League games where Kante was the official man of the match, culminating in Saturday’s final.
That is not just elite-level performance, and reflection of a player rising to perform at the highest level. It is historically good performance. It is Leo Messi-level influence.
That’s what we’re talking about. Kante was the best-performing player in the three biggest games in club football, where it all matters most, where the pressure and prestige are greatest.
This is all that should really matter for awards like the Ballon d’Or. That’s where the debate should start and end, except he still has Euro 2020 å komme. Der, Kante will be right in the centre for the favourites.
France are themselves stacked with talent, but we’re now getting to the point where the midfielder’s presence immediately amplifies the status of any team on its own.
“When we didn’t have him, we missed him,” Azpilicueta added. “He does everything with the energy he brings.”
He may be on the brink of winning everything. If he claims that European Championship, he will have completed the set of major trophies: major domestic title, major domestic cup, Europa League, Champions League, World Cup and maybe this.
If we get to that point, Kante’s candidature should be beyond doubt. But that should really be the case anyway.
There are no holes in the argument. Kant, as with everything else, has raced to fill them. He shouldn’t need to say anything else.