Okay…it’s done. Chelsea are the 2016/2017 EPL Champions. It’s been a remarkable year for the blues who put a seriously terrible 2015/2016 season behind them to restore themselves as the best team in England. As an Arsenal fan, it (kinda) hurts that Chelsea’s loss at the Emirates (to Arsenal) is partly (maybe greatly) responsible for the incredible form that got Chelsea the trophy. What’s worse is that the team responsible for that wake-up call is not even likely to be playing in the Champions’ League next season…Imagine that.
However, when I was watching the celebrations after the West Brom win, I couldn’t help but notice a certain black guy being thrown up and down by his teammates. This guy looked almost embarrassed at the attention he was getting. I mean…he could barely smile or clap long enough at the fans who kept screaming his name from the stands. It is most unusual behavior from someone who has being named as the PFA and FWA Player of the Year. That guy is N’Golo Kante.
His name wasn’t new to me when he arrived at Leicester City last season. For some time before then, he was linked to Arsenal (given their reputation for bringing in unknown French players on the cheap). In those years of reports linking him to the club, I was curious to know the type of player he was. Thanks to the internet, I got to see clips of him play for Caen. My first reaction? “Is this a joke? This guy is too small for Arsenal, let alone the EPL…He’ll get run over in the tunnel before the game”. I wasn’t impressed with his physical outlook. His work rate was admirable but in a league like Ligue 1, physicality is not really a prerequisite for success. To be honest, when Leicester signed him and pointed to his running and tackling stats as reasons to think he would do well in England, I simply laughed and made an intrapersonal bet that Kante would get Ranieri sacked before Christmas in 2015 (I’m still owing myself after losing that bet…lol).
What followed was an incredible 20 months for Kante, Chelsea, Leicester and even myself. From the get-go, Kante went about proving how good he was to his team and the league. For a while, I didn’t notice what he really did for the team…I was used to seeing defensive midfielders launch into hard tackles, bully players with their sheer brute and even bag millions of yellow cards as part of their job. With Kante, I just saw that he always had eyes for the ball, not the man. He would follow the ball even if it meant chasing 11 players for it. More than half the time, he would actually get the ball…with no hard tackles, no body bashing… but just clean defensive play, and knowing how to simply pick the ball off players without getting booked too often (a rare skill, which underlines how intelligent he is). Moreover, it’s the consistency in his play that was very astonishing. Doing it game after game (while getting better at other aspects of his game) gradually made him a player to be respected. Leicester City were lucky to have him and their title win was greatly down to the masterstroke that is Kante.
When he moved to Chelsea, I knew he would bring the necessary spark for a great season. His high-energy play was missing from Leicester as they woefully defended their league champion status. Chelsea became champions (in my opinion) with one transfer. He’s such a lovable character that you just want to succeed at every opportunity. It won’t sink in just yet…but he’s part of an elite group of players that have won both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards…in the SAME season. Plus,he’s in line for more similar awards. If that is not incredible, I don’t know what is.