N’Golo Kante is on course to win consecutive Premier League titles with different teams. He is not only going to be taking a medal home from each campaign, he will have been the MVP in each team and is one of the reasons why the Blues are always favourites in the latest Chelsea odds. Signed from Caen in 2015, Kante has leapt from normality to superstardom.
Regardless of his undoubted influence on two contrasting, yet equally impressive, teams, people are keen to criticise. Naturally some praise has gone a little over the top, but the number of critics of Kante continues to rise. Whether this is the natural response of people wanting to shoot down someone who is almost universally liked and respected it’s hard to tell, but it is a phenomenon that seems to be growing.
The majority of these criticisms stem from his technical ability. Which, in part, is fair. His passing range is not like Paul Pogba’s or Xabi Alonso’s and he can be wayward with even some simple balls at times. Then again, this is why Chelsea have Cesc Fabregas and Leicester had Danny Drinkwater. Kante is no expert technician, which is not his role, so to use this as means of demeaning his brilliance is dubious.
His ball-playing ability, however, has notably improved during this season at Chelsea. As Antonio Conte would surely tell you right away, Kante’s passing is not why he is in the side, though. He will never be a player to slide inch-perfect through balls and score 10 goals a season, but Fabregas will never be a player to register five or six tackles and interceptions per match -but that does not make him any less of a player.
Another common criticism of Kante is that he only succeeds because of the system. He thrives in counter-attacking teams and is less effective when the opposition have men behind the ball, this is a fact. It is almost irrelevant, though. For a start, he has shown the nous to adapt his role between Leicester and Chelsea and, even when the opponents are sitting deep, he is an excellent player to have covering space at the base of the midfield.
To add to that argument, does it work to the detriment of every player who has a favoured system? Does the fact Andres Iniesta is wonderful at Barcelona but would not be as effective in a Tony Pulis team mean he is not as good a player? No, of course it doesn’t.
In fact, Kante is not a beneficiary of the system, he enables it. As team-mates have mentioned at Leicester and Chelsea, his incredible engine and reading of the game allows them to play with a midfield two. He is such a freak of nature that he allows his team to play a certain shape. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 and Leicester’s 4-4-2 would not be as universally functional without Kante.
It has become a cringeworthy cliché by now, but Kante really does do the work of two players in the middle third. His pressing, ability to quickly turn the ball over and acceleration enable the fast transitions that have epitomised the successes for Claudio Ranieri and Antonio Conte’s sides. Chelsea’s first goal at West Ham just last week was the perfect example of Kante’s importance to the side, he does not only break up the opposition’s play, he wins the ball in such advanced areas that he is often the initiator.
Swathes of people are guilty of judging Kante on aspects of the game he is not in the team to produce. While the Frenchman is playing this well in this Chelsea setup he is undoubtedly the best midfielder in the world at what he does. He is not a Claude Makelele replica, he is unique and he continues to astonish week after week. Kante is playing in a way no one else does to the same effect.
The flexibility he gives his managers tactically, his importance to two successful teams and remarkable ascent to the top of English football make him the most significant Premier League arrival in years. I have never witnessed a player like N’golo Kante, he might not be the ‘best’ in the world, but he is the most influential.