It was hard to miss the celebrations of many of the French footballers following their World Cup final win in Moscow. Social media has been plastered with Pogba and Mendy dabbing with Emmanuel Macron and many of the French players gatecrashing Deschamps’ press conference to celebrate with the media. But it is one of the more diminutive players that accepts the praise awarded to him, without bathing in the limelight. N’Golo Kanté.
In his first season in the French top flight following promotion with Caen, Kanté recovered the ball more than any player in Europe and earned a move to Leicester City for the 2015/16 season. After lifting the title with ‘The Foxes’ in the biggest shock in Premier League history he retained the title with Chelsea the following year. In both campaigns he managed more tackles and more interceptions than any other Premier League player. He has now won the World Cup.
Kanté was substituted in the 55th minute of the final after a relatively poor performance. It has since been revealed that he was suffering from gastroenteritis. An explanation for his brutal rating of 3/10 by L’Equipe. Despite his poor showing against Croatia, France would not have been in the final were it not for the 5ft 6in midfielder.
Kanté’s teammates recognise his importance to the team, shown in their rendition of “N’Golo Kanté, he’s small, he’s nice, he shut down Lionel Messi…” on the team bus. Often likened to the Duracell bunny, pundits and journalists point to his unquestionable ability to run continuously and close opponents down. But Antonio Conté, his former manager at Chelsea, said: “He is the most complete midfielder in the world”. His ability to carry the ball, switch the play, make key passes and turn defence into attack is often overlooked. It is easy to eulogise Pogba for his attacking quality during the World Cup, and he did perform at a far higher and more consistent level than we have seen in the Premier League, but without Kanté’s surging runs from midfield, Pogba would not be afforded the time and space to express himself.
Like many footballers, Kanté had a difficult start to life. His father died when he was just 11 years old and he was brought up by his mother, who worked as a cleaner. However, unlike many, Kanté does not flaunt his wealth earned through becoming a world-class footballer. His life reflects his on-field displays. He quietly gets on with it, with little fuss and without drawing any undue attention to himself. You never see him arguing referee decisions or feigning injury to gain an advantage. Nor do you see him driving expensive supercars or showcasing his opulence on Instagram.
When you listen to stories of the 2018 World Cup you will undoubtedly hear about the stellar performances of Eden Hazard and the rise of Kylian Mbappe, the teenage sensation. You are unlikely to hear stories of N’Golo Kanté or central defender Raphael Varane, who was also sublime throughout the tournament. It is time that FIFA, who inexplicably named Antoine Griezmann in their top 3 players of the tournament, took notice of the players that are crucial to any team success but do not grab the headlines for their contributions. Take N’Golo Kanté out of the French team and they would not have won the World Cup. Put him in the Belgian or Croatian side and it would be them taking home the most coveted trophy in world football.