As a general point it could be said that the achievements of players are too soon diminished these days, superseded as they are by terrific performances put in by new kids on the block. That’s football. That’s how it works. We refresh the page and move on.
And that appears to be the likeliest explanation as to why there are a number of articles intimating that Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi has become the superior of N’Golo Kante, suggesting the Nigerian midfielder has become more impactful at the King Power Stadium than the French dynamo ever was.
The BBC have indulged in the comparison despite bizarrely calling for an end to them, as too have ESPN. Going all the way back to 2017, Goal.com were already claiming a usurping had taken place and that was only four months into Ndidi’s stint in the Midlands after the 20-year-old signed from Genk with Kante having previously moved to Chelsea.
In a recent Radio 5 Live podcast James Maddison came right out and said it: “Kante is a brilliant player but actually winning the ball back and taking the ball off the opposition I don’t think there is anyone better than Wilfred.”
We can overlook that one because he is, after all, a team-mate.
The truth is that Ndidi is not as good as Kante was in a Leicester shirt and there is absolutely no slight intended when stating that, not when the reason is given. That reason is that nobody conceivably could be.
In the 2015/16 season that saw the Foxes astound one and all by winning the title, they had an all-action midfielder who frankly redefined what was considered possible for a player of his type. This was a holding player who made 4.7 tackles and 4.2 interceptions per match, yet also completed 1.3 dribbles, made four assists and used either his running power or his passing range to turn dogged defending into sweeping counter-attacks.
That year no player – including Jamie Vardy who scored 24 goals or the magical Riyad Mahrez – did more to make the 5000/1 fairy tale a reality. The following year Kante won a clean sweep of individual honours. Twelve months later he was a World Cup winner.
It is then unfair to compare Ndidi to a player who essentially is – and will always be – a one of a kind. As for Kante, it only diminishes his incredible achievements.
That of course is not for an instant taking anything away from Leicester’s current solitary enforcer. As part of Brendan Rodgers’ re-modeled midfield he has excelled and dramatically so; constantly mopping up and starting attacks. According to Whoscored, he is the seventh best performing player in the Premier League this season, just behind Mohamed Salah, averaging an astonishing 4.1 tackles per game.
This year no player – including Vardy who has scored 17 goals so far or the magical Maddison – has done more to elevate Leicester into third. Tellingly, 12 of their 15 Premier League victories have been with him in the starting XI; in contrast, they’ve won just three of six without him.
Both players have been integral for Leicester in their own right, and it’s true that their respective jobs share some similarities. But Kante has made himself an especially unique entity that very few players in the world have managed to replicate in style since his emergence.
That may eventually prove true of Ndidi as well; he could go on to achieve similar brilliance through his own way of playing. But ultimately, that should be determined either way by his own merits – not a comparison with a world-class predecessor.