For decades, when people talked about the best professional footballers in the world, central midfielders hardly came to mind. That has changed in recent years, though, as N’Golo Kante proved what an impact a player in his position could make.
Having tasted the ultimate glory both at the club and international level, the French star is renowned for his tackles, defensive tempo and contribution to championship winning teams. Here, get to know more about the Chelsea player.
N’Golo Kante is a French professional football player for Premier League club Chelsea FC and the France national team. Born in Paris on March 29, 1991, he is widely regarded as the best defensive midfielder on the planet.
Son of Malian parents who migrated to France in the 80s, he is the older child of four brothers and sisters. Kante is known for being shy, though that hasn’t prevented him from winning the most important trophies for a soccer player.
Like many soccer players who make it to the big stage, Kante had to overcome adversity before becoming a world-renowned superstar. He grew up in Rueil-Malmaison, in the western suburbs of Paris.
Having lost his father when he was only 11, he made money as a garbage picker, selling valuable waste for recycling to help provide for his family while his mother worked as a cleaner.
It was during the 1998 World Cup, thanks to which he made more money by collecting trash around the stadiums, that he would start to visualize his future as a footballer. That French national team that emerged victorious at home would inspire Kante to pursue a soccer career, as he noticed how stars with migrant roots like Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry played a pivotal role in the World Cup success.
Having developed a love for soccer after the 1998 World Cup, the eight-year-old Kante would begin his career at the academy of JS Suresnes, located in the western suburbs of the French capital. From the very beginning, his teammates would notice his shy personality but especially his humility and defensive abilities.
He stood out even with teammates who were three years older than him, despite his small stature. Kante went on to spend a decade with JS Suresnes, where his hard work and performances started to be noticed across the country. Though big teams underestimated him because of his size, a local club did open its doors to the young midfielder.
In 2010, Kante joined the reserve team of Boulogne. After two years playing for the youth side, he finally had the opportunity to make his first team debut. On May 18, 2012, Kante came off the bench for his already relegated team in the Ligue 2 season finale against AS Monaco, a 1-2 home defeat.
The following season—with Boulogne in the third division—Kante established himself in the starting eleven, missing only one league fixture that campaign. That year also saw him find the net for the first time, finishing the tournament with three goals.
In the summer of 2013, Kante returned to the Ligue 2 by joining Caen as a free agent. It wouldn’t take long for him to make an impact, playing all 38 games of the campaign that saw his side finish third and therefore secure promotion to the Ligue 1.
In his first year in the French top flight, Kante helped Caen avoid relegation, missing only one league game. He also had a hand in seven goals, scoring twice while providing two assists.
Kante took a huge step in his career in August 2015, when Premier League side Leicester City acquired his services for a reported €9 million. Nobody had predicted it by then, but that would turn out to be one of the best signings in the history of the English first division.
Not only did he successfully take over for Esteban Cambiasso, the veteran defensive midfielder who helped Leicester remain in the top tier last season, but he even helped the Foxes become a title contender in England. Though he only scored one goal in a 2-1 home win against Watford, Kante had been instrumental in Claudio Ranieri’s excellent form throughout the year, which resulted in an unlikely Premier League title.
While Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez often took the spotlight for scoring most of the goals that year, experts were full of praise for Kante. At the end of the championship winning season, the Frenchman was named in the PFA Team of The Year while he also finished atop the defensive stats.
His talent didn’t go unnoticed anymore, as Premier League giants started to battle for his signing. Chelsea, however, had the upper hand over Arsenal by signing him for €35.8 million in 2016. From his very first game at Stamford Bridge, a 2-1 win over West Ham, he proved them right.
Kante went on to have another fantastic campaign in England, winning his second Premier League title in a row—becoming the first player since Eric Cantona in 1993 to win consecutive first division trophies with two different clubs. Kante was recognized for his fantastic season by winning the Premier League Player of the Season, PFA Players’ Player of the Year, and FWA Footballer of the Year awards.
After being a key contributor in an FA Cup final triumph over Manchester United and a UEFA Europa League title against Arsenal, Kante later helped Chelsea achieve an even bigger feat. With a Man of the Match performance in the final, he was key for the Blues’ success in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League under Thomas Tuchel.
Having drawn comparisons with Chelsea legend Claude Makélélé, Kante was also on the 30-player shortlist of the 2021 Ballon d’Or though he didn’t make the final cut. His style of play, however, also saw him succeed at the international level.
Having turned down an invitation to play for Mali, Kante was eventually called up to the French national team without ever being part of the youth program. At 24, he made his senior international debut on March 25, 2016, coming off the bench in a 3-2 win over Netherlands in a friendly. Four days later, the day he turned 25, he scored in his first start, a 4-2 victory against Russia.
His first competitive game came in the 2016 European Championship, playing the full 90 minutes in the 2-1 win over Romania. That day, Kante not only provided an assist but also led the stats in tackles, passes, and interceptions. France later lost in heartbreaking fashion to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final, in which Kante did not feature.
His luck would change in 2018, when Didier Deschamps included him in the 23-man squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Having started all seven games in an unforgettable campaign, a dream came true for Kante when France beat Croatia 4-2 to become world champions. That national team included stars like Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba, but Kante was a key member of that World Cup winning side. So far, he has 53 caps and two goals at the international level.
Unlike other players, whose success is measured by their net worth or contracts signed throughout their careers, N’Golo Kante’s footballing career is defined by an unbelievable résumé. Having won it all both in his club and international career, most players would do anything to win an ounce of what he achieved so far. Here is a list of the titles he has won, up to the present time.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo often take much of the limelight when people discuss who’s the best player on the planet. However, over the last few years the conversation has not been reduced to goalscorers or offensive players. N’Golo Kante has proven how a defensive midfielder, regardless of his stature, can help a team become more successful.
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