FFT100 2018: No.13, N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)
This was another great year for Kante, and if ever a player was symbolic of France’s unflashy, blue-collar grind to World Cup glory, it’s him. Seeing him serenaded by the rest of the squad at the Stade de France in the post-tournament celebrations simply underlined what an important figure he is considered by his fellow pros.
That arguably France’s most important player – their most dependable midfield linchpin since Claude Makelele and adored by his team-mates – had an underwhelming game in the final was one of the more curious aspects of their win over Croatia in Moscow.
If the detail of that hasn’t been forgotten yet, it almost should be, like Manchester United’s flat display in the 1999 Champions League Final having thrilled Europe all the way there. Kante now, like United then, rarely disappoints, and was an integral part of France getting that far in the first place.
Things have changed since Euro 2016, when he had begun the tournament in the XI and finished up outside it; the victim of Didier Deschamps’ search for a composition which could suit both star turns, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba. Now, the idea of a France starting line-up without him would seem like a totally unhinged piece of thinking.
It’s been an intriguing year for Kante as well as a successful one, though. Seeing him off the leash in the opening weeks of Chelsea’s 2018/19 Premier League season, breaking forward into the opposition penalty area, was a delightful novelty, but the onset of winter brought about questions of team balance and whether coach Maurizio Sarri really understood how to get the best from one of the club’s essential players – especially after the arrival of his muse Jorginho at the base of midfield.
The good news for Chelsea fans is that the situation will get worked through one way or another, since the wildly popular Kante has signed a new, long-term deal to stay in west London.
If there’s one concern for his future it’s that he is so altruistic – as he frequently shows off the pitch, too – that he’s unlikely to kick up a fuss at being potentially misused. Fortunately, his talent shines too brightly for the best solution to be hidden for long.