PORTO, Portugal (Reuters) – Chelsea’s French international N’Golo Kante cemented his place as the finest central midfielder in the modern game with a man-of-the-match display as he guided his side to a 1-0 Champions League triumph over Manchester City on Saturday.
The 30-year-old was playing in the French second division for Caen just six years ago but since then he has been on a remarkable streak of trophy collecting.
He won the Premier League with Leicester City in 2016 and then again with Chelsea the following year. After winning the FA Cup with the London club he was then a key component of the France team which claimed the 2018 World Cup.
A Europa League title came the following season before Saturday’s Champions League victory in Portugal. His run could continue with France among the favourites for the European Championship which starts next month.
Against City, he showed all the reasons why he has been so essential to those successes.
“Kante’s staggering. I’m shattered just watching him,” said former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole, now a television pundit with BT Sport.
“I played (at Chelsea) with (French international) Claude Makelele who I thought was the best until I saw this kid. He’s got Makelele plus extras,” he added.
“In the same way a striker’s got that instinct in front of goal, he’s got that in midfield. (City’s Ilkay) Gundogan, (Bernardo) Silva and (Phil) Foden couldn’t read it, Kante was just on it.”
Often praised for his ball-winning skills, Kante’s passing and running with the ball allows Chelsea to quickly transition from defence to attack.
Kante has also won numerous individual awards but has yet to be in serious contention for the biggest ones, such as the Ballon d’Or, but he surely must be in with a chance this year.
Ex-Chelsea midfielder, Brazilian Ramires, believes he should be talked about for such honours — even if Kante does not have a high profile off the field.
“He’s very calm, always quiet. He’s an extraordinary player. He’s in every corner of the field. In defence, in the middle, in attack, on the sides. He’s among the best in the world. The way he’s playing is impressive,” he told Mais Futebol.
“He may turn out to be one of the top three in the world. It’s hard for a defensive midfielder to come in and win a Ballon d’Or. But it would be deserved”.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris